Eating well

If there is a secret to a long and healthy life it has to be providing yourself nourishment which is both tasty and healthy. Most of us don’t think much about the food that we eat unless we fall sick. However, as the famous Hippocrates quote states: ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine your food’, it is important to eat well not just to stay healthy but to fight diseases too.

Eating Well in Cancer

When a patient is diagnosed with Cancer and starts the conventional therapies like surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, etc., it affects his/her eating. Most patients suffer side effects from these treatments like:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth Ulcers
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in the taste of food
  • Over-fatigue
  • Fever, etc.

These usually lead to a loss of appetite and a loss of interest in eating at all.

Dealing with Advice from Loved Ones

People with cancer often have many well-meaning folks telling them to eat this or that food, or try this anticancer diet, drink this special tea, etc. Sorting through all these suggestions can become confusing and frustrating. Give yourself permission to stay focused on the eating path that seems right for you, and if you need guidance, consult with a professional trained in whole-foods cancer nutrition. Dogma is inedible; a personalized eating plan is indelible!

Nourishment at Every Step

Nourishment goes beyond taking in nutrients such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Participating in any part of the process of getting the food from the ground to your plate and into your body can be nourishing. All the sensations of food are nourishing:

  • Seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting the food
  • Feeling gratitude for the food in front of you and those who put it there
  • Enjoying a meal in solitude or with people you like
  • Taking time to let your food digest
  • Appreciating your body’s way of putting that food to use for energy, for building, for repair, and for countering cancer
  • Paying attention to the information that food gives you: Did that meal make you feel content and satisfied? Does your body feel better from what you’ve eaten?

All this accumulated nourishment may improve your health and maybe even affect the outcome of cancer.

Cravings and Your Microbiome

Craving sugar might not just be in your head—it could be in your gut. Evidence suggests that food metabolism and perhaps cravings are influenced by our microbiome. Early evidence indicates that when we change our eating patterns, after a transition period of yearning for customary foods, we may begin to prefer or even crave the healthier foods that we’ve switched to eating. This could be because our microbes change, with some species becoming more dominant and others fading away in response to what we eat. Patience during the transition is needed to allow your microbiome to adjust to your new diet.

Using Food as Medicine in Integrative and Traditional Medicine Systems

Some of the medical and health systems summarized by LHC use dietary interventions and systems to either reduce risk or treat illness and to restore health. If you include a naturopath or a functional medicine clinician on your healthcare team, you will almost certainly receive a prescription of diet and possibly supplements.

Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medical systems see each individual as composed of the primary elements of nature, in varying degrees. After a careful determination of the basic “makeup” of the person and their current state of balance (or imbalance), foods and herbs may be prescribed to bring the person’s elemental energies into alignment. For more information on these Integrative and Traditional medical systems, please see All Therapies.

Dietary and Metabolic Therapies

Separate from recommendations to eat well, some integrative oncologists might recommend specific diets to alter your metabolism, purge your body of toxins or bring about other changes within your body. We discuss these approaches on separate pages:

While we understand the side-effects of such treatments, it important for Cancer patients to realize while a change in diet alone cannot treat Cancer, it is in important aspect of your overall treatment. Here is what we suggest:

  • Talk to your doctor about the foods that you should eat to help with the treatment and minimize side-effects
  • If possible, eat home-cooked food
  • Select organic and germ-free ingredients
  • Don’t wait till you feel really hungry – try eating small portions are regular intervals
  • Avoid processed foods and focus on fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Try complementary therapies like acupuncture or meditation to help minimize the side-effects of the treatment
  •  Remember, your immune system is currently weak. Hence, ensure that the food that you are eating is safe.

It is important to talk to a dietitian or your healthcare provider before you start on a meal plan. There are countless theories floating on the internet – be wary of blindly following them. If you notice that your body is responding positively or negatively to a specific food, then make note of it and talk to your doctor about it during your next visit.

References & More Information

  1. Credit: Beyond Conventional Care Therapies
  2. Integrative Oncology Cancer Care
  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment.
  4. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: Eating Well During Cancer Treatment.
  5. WebMD: Eating Well During Cancer Treatment.
  6. Chemocare: Eating Well During Chemotherapy.
  7. Dr. Shubham. Associate Professor, Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics. UT MD Anderson Cancer Center. Here’s How An Indian Diet Can Help Cut Your Cancer Risk. Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST.
  8. Eat Right. Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment. Published June 29, 2017. Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN.
  9. Ho ZC. Principles of diet therapy in ancient Chinese medicine: ‘Huang Di Nei Jing’. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1993 Jun;2(2):91-5.
  10. World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.
  11. American Institute for Cancer Research: AICR’S FOODS THAT FIGHT CANCER ™.
  12. National Cancer Institute. Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment.
  13. Springboard Beyond Cancer. Healthy Eating.
  14. National Cancer Institute. Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Viewed on September 30, 2018.
  15. Collins F. Creative Minds: Broccoli, Microbes, & You. NIH Director’s Blog. May 22, 2014. Viewed April 5, 2018.

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