Nutrition advice for cancer patients
Nutrition takes on an even more important role when one is diagnosed with cancer. Here we will look at nutritional recommendations for cancer patients.

One of the most important areas of our lives that has great impact on our health is nutrition. We know that it plays a significant role with our health, both in the prevention of illness and disease and, in many cases, aiding in the cure. The impact that nutrition has on cancer is no exception.

We've heard the warnings about dietary factors and the potential they have to cause cancer, such as limiting intake of salt-cured, smoked and foods preserved with nitrites, as these foods contain numerous carcinogenic compounds. But here we will be looking into nutritional recommendations for those who have already had cancer diagnosed. As with any diet, and especially with a cancer diagnosis, never start a nutritional regimen without first consulting your physician. However, if your physician does not acknowledge the role of nutrition in your treatment, perhaps you should consider finding another. The reason special nutrition is called for is to strengthen the patient's immune system. When doing this, the cancerous cells become weak and are more susceptible to destruction during treatment.

When one is first diagnosed with cancer, often times there are no significant symptoms and treatment has yet to begin. At this point a basic diet is recommended, and it is this diet that is basically followed into treatment. This diet is based on whole foods such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and fish. It is low in fat and saturated fat yet high in fiber and protein from vegetables.

We begin by looking at foods you need to eat daily.

Vegetables: These may be juiced, eaten raw or steamed. Steaming foods retains more nutritional value. You need to have 1-2 servings per day. A serving is 1 cup of leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup juiced or cooked or chopped, raw. Good vegetables are cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collard and mustard greens. The following can be baked or steamed: asparagus, carrots, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes or yams.

Leafy green vegetables such as escarole, chard, chicory, sprouts, dandelion greens, and leafy green lettuces such as green leaf, red leaf, romaine and butter crunch are extremely important. They contain high amounts of fiber and beta carotene which are extremely important nutrients in the fight against and prevention of cancer.

Other vegetables suggestions are beans, beets, corn, mushrooms, potatoes, squashes, turnips, okra, pumpkin, rutabaga, kelp, nori, radishes, snow peas, and kohlrabi.

Fruits: Fruit should be eaten with meals and you should have 1-2 daily servings. A serving is 1/2 cup of fruit that is chopped, dried or cooked, 3/4 cup of fruit that is juiced or 1 medium piece of fruit. Good fruit choices are apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, dates, figs, grapefruit, lemons, mango, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, prunes, strawberries, tangerines and watermelon. If you don't know for a fact that the fruit was organically grown, remove the skin.

Beans/Peas: Beans and peas are high in fiber and protein yet low in fat. You should have 2-3 servings daily. A serving is 1 cup cooked beans.

Bean preparation can be time consuming, so plan accordingly. Good sources are black beans, blackeyed peas, brown beans, chickpeas, green peas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red beans, split peas, soybeans, white beans.

Nuts and Seeds: You should have at least a handful of nuts and seeds everyday, as they contain high amounts of fiber, protein and NO cholesterol. A nut or nutbutter serving is 2 Tablespoons and most can be found in organic or natural health food stores.

Great choices are almonds, almond butter, brazil nuts, cashews, cashew butter, filberts, flaxseed, hazelnut butter, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sesame butter, sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter, tahini and walnuts.

Grains: Grain products make up most of your daily consumption, as you should have 6-11 servings per day. The serving size varies and will be noted by each type of grain. Grains are a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Great choices of grain products are: pasta (1/2 cup cooked), bagels (1/2), English muffin (1/2), bread (1 slice), crackers (4 small), cereal (check label), wild rice (1/2 cup cooked), brown rice (1/2 cup cooked), millet (1/2 cup cooked), oats, corn, buckwheat, barley, wheat (1/2 cup cooked).

Soy: Studies have shown soy to have multiple benefits in cancer treatment. You should make it a high priority to have at least 1 serving per day of a soy product. Good choices are soymilks (many varieties, even chocolate) and for serving sizes see labels. Other choices are tofu, tempeh, miso, soy cheese, soy beans, soy nuts, soy flour, soy grits.

Dairy: The benefits (or lack of) of dairy products in the diet are continually questioned. While one study suggests they are helpful, another will claim they are disease producing. You should try to get one serving of dairy per day. A serving of yogurt or milk is 1 cup while a serving of cheese is a 1" cube and cottage cheese is 1/2 cup. All milk products should be nonfat, lowfat, skim and unflavored yogurt, milk or cottage cheese. Avoid any high fat or whole milk products.

Fats: One serving per day. Canola, olive and nut oils (2 tsp), salad dressings (2 tsp), and mayo (2 tsp).

Your drinks you can partake of liberally, as long as it is a healthy choice. Whatever beverage you choose should be along with a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day. Suggestions are green tea, blacktea, herbal (unsweetened) tea, ginger tea, water, and rice milk.

Seasonings for your food can also be used at will as long as they are low sodium.

You may be wondering, if the above foods are what you should eat daily, what about meat? What about coffee? Chocolate? Eggs? Well, let's look further at the foods you should eat only once in a while and the ones you shouldn't eat at all.

Meats: Poultry and fish (2-3 ounce servings) can be eaten 2-3 times per week. Meats that are cured or smoked should be avoided such as bacon, ham, pickles (anything pickled), lucheon meats, hot dogs, meat spreads, pepperoni and sausages. Also avoid beef, pork, processed meat, liver and other organ meats. Eggs are allowed, up to five, spread out over the week.

Never eat deep fried or fatty foods such as fast food fare, grilled meats or chicken skin. Salty foods such as chips, popcorn and canned soups should be avoided.

If you desire a spread, use butter (2 tsp, 2-3 times per week) or nut butters (2 tablespoons daily). Avoid margarine or butter substitutes. Also stay away from saturated fats and vegetable shortenings. Raw animal foods and refined foods (white breads, cakes, pies, etc.) should be done away with.

If you desire sweets have one 2-3 times per week, but avoid candy and cakes. Instead, have fruit juices, pure chocolate, frozen deserts such as juice pops or sherbet and for sweeteners use honey and maple syrup.

And as far as that coffee goes? Try a coffee substitute, such as chicory or roasted barley drink. Coffee and espressos, etc., whether regular of decaf, should be avoided altogether. Sodas, kool aids, canned juices and teas and fruit flavored drinks should also be eliminated.

Nutrition doesn't come only in the form of whole foods. It can also be supplemented, and should be, with vitamin and mineral supplements. Talk to your physician or a nutritionist about what supplements you should be adding to your diet.

If you have already begun cancer treatment chances are good you are either undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. Most patients undergoing treatment suffer from some form of nausea, and because of the upset to the gastrointestinal tract this is often accompanied by vomiting. When so affected by treatment, it is important to eat foods that are somewhat bland, as spices and strong odors can trigger repeated nausea "episodes". Bland foods such as crackers, toast and bread are more easily digestible. These are not recommended on a continual basis, but they are important on the day of treatment. Avoid fatty foods, as their long digestion process increases your chances of vomiting.

Liquids can also help calm nausea and prevent vomiting. If you don't feel you can handle food, have clear broth, ice chips, ice water, iced tea or herbal tea.

Patients undergoing treatment can also experience diarrhea or constipation. For diarrhea, one should choose starchier foods such as rice or potatoes. Bananas are excellent choices as they are not only starchy but they help replinish potassium stores. Fluids, especially water, need to be maintained or increased.

Constipation should be approached with more fiber. Bran can be sprinkled on salads or fruit. Raw vegetables and nuts, as well as extra water are also very important.

Dry mouth is another common side effect. When this happens one should always increase fluid intake, whether in the form of ice chips or extra broth. Foods high in liquid content are recommended.

Dealing with cancer is difficult enough, but an increase in nutritional awareness can help one better cope.