With Cancer Prevention Month being this February, we’d like to take a deeper look into the relationship between food and cancer. If you or anyone you love is dealing with cancer, these tips can help you ensure that the nutritional needs of the patient are met.
One of our greatest tools in the fight against cancer is always prevention. How can you prevent yourself from getting cancer? A frequent answer to this is FOOD! However, as I’m sure many of you can attest, we are regularly bombarded with the latest trends about a superfood that could “potentially” prevent cancer. It seems as though every food gets their 15 minutes of fame plastered across covers of a magazine. For anyone keeping prevention at the forefront, it gets confusing!
Some have noticed this trend and began to call it out. Last fall Vox released an article explaining research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vox explains in depth why new scientific studies gain attention in the media and why singular studies alone aren’t enough to prove a particular food for cancer prevention. As their chart below shows, these studies can often contradict each other:
Unfortunately for the public, buzzwords and catchy titles can be misleading about the weight of scientific evidence. So here is what we know:
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), “No single food or food component can protect you against cancer by itself. But strong evidence does show that a diet filled with a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans helps lower risk for many cancers.”
AICR also notes that proper nutrition in conjunction with exercise and maintaining a healthy weight is the best known recipe for cancer prevention. The National Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK both provide great lists of what scientists know so far about various foods and nutrients as they relate to cancer.
Other than the importance of proper nutrition, food also plays an emotional role in our lives. We can conjure up memories of comfort and tastes that made us feel cared for. When a loved one has been diagnosed with a life changing disease, some of us might feel compelled to let them know we’re thinking about them by bringing a healthful meal.
Those who are diagnosed with an aggressive cancer similar to mesothelioma can feel isolated without a larger network of patients to connect with. This can build on the stress of poor prognosis and limited treatment options for certain diseases and can further increase feelings of isolation. Reaching out to offer support can make them feel cared for and remind them that they’re not alone. Providing for a patient’s practical needs can be a great way to accomplish that.
Not only providing meals, but the simple act of sharing a meal can bring a sense of normalcy to a chaotic period in a person’s life. Sitting down at a table with loved ones can help ease a patient’s mind.
Nutrition and eating the right foods takes on another layer of importance for cancer patients undergoing treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, proper nutrition can improve quality of life for cancer patients. Proper nutrition is vital for maintaining a healthy body weight and tissues, and for fighting potential infections.
What specifically would this diet look like? According to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, cancer patients’ diets should be comprised of vegetables and fruit, grains, healthy fat and lean proteins. A medical professional can help patients determine their specific nutritional needs. A nutritionist or registered dietician can help ensure those needs are met.
These dietary suggestions may be more difficult for patients than they sound, however. Unfortunately, cancer itself as well as the treatments can deter proper nutrition. Chemotherapy, for example, can induce side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dry mouth, mouth sores, and more. These symptoms often lead to patients eating less, inadvertently decreasing their strength at a time when they truly need it.
Nutrition is necessary for proper recovery. It is also a means by which to combat these side effects and alleviate symptoms.
A few steps that patients can take are:
- Eating smaller meals
- Eat high-calorie food
- Avoid acidic and spicy foods
Preparing meals ahead of time can be a great strategy for both patients and caregivers. During this phase of a patient’s fight against cancer, the practical aspects of having a meal can become increasingly difficult. Days filled with appointments and treatments leaves little time for grocery shopping or preparing meals. Nevermind the physical exhaustion that often accompanies treatment regimens. Preparation can be the best means of supporting nutritional needs, especially since hours in a day are limited. Having healthy meals and snacks on hand can help a patient getthe nutrients they need.