Nutrition and cancer


Cancer is the most dreadful word in the dictionary of diseases. Despite so much of advancement in cancer treatment, the word is enough to devastate one’s whole world. However if you ever meet a cancer survivor, you would find that their outlook towards life becomes more positive. They start appreciating life and its beauty and work towards making it more meaningful and relevant.

Let’s know what cancer is after all. In simple words cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. Therefore metabolic demands during cancer increase drastically (due to tissue breakdown). Nutrition plays an important role in cancer management. The goal of cancer treatment is to achieve a cure for cancer, allowing one to live a normal span of life.

Due to chemotherapy induced xerostomia, altered taste, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, managing malnutrition is a one of the major intervention in the nutritional management of cancer. Energy-to prevent excessive weight loss and meet increased metabolic needs the total energy value needs to be increased.

Foods recomended

– Cereals-wheat, whole-grain bread ,rice, brown rice jowar, bajra, barley and cereal products semolina, Dalia, Oats, popcorn, wheat flakes etc.

Protein- due to considerable wasting of body tissues protein requirements increase for tissue regeneration, healing and rehabilitation.

Foods recommended

– Whole and washed pulses, legumes, lentils, black beans, split peas, lima beans, kidney beans, chick peas, black-eyed peas.
– Sprouts (in the form of salad, chaat, raita , or as stuffing )
– Lean meat-fish, chicken.
– Milk and milk products like curd, cottage cheese, buttermilk.

Foods restricted

– Red Meats, egg yolk, organ meats
– Cured and smoked products like meat and fish.
– Dried salted fish, pickled foods
– All packaged (high in trans fats) and canned food items which are needs a check. Limit foods like potato chips, cookies, crackers, French fries, and doughnuts etc.

Fat-Fat has to be restricted, as it has been identified as a risk factor for various cancers. Intake of polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat (from animal sources) has to be curtailed. Choose olive and canola oil

Foods restricted

– Fried & Fatty Foods like paratha, samosa, pakora, puri, kachori, namkeen, etc.
– Sweets, Cakes, Pastries, Ice creams, chocolates
– Saturated fat like Butter, Ghee, Cream, Cheese, Full cream milk, khoya, vanaspati

Vitamins and Minerals-optimal intake of vitamins and minerals is recommended to maintain healthy nutritional status.

Foods recomended

– All green leafy vegetables, spinach, broccoli, peas, beans, lotus stem, bell peppers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, yellow vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes etc.
– All Fruits like papaya, musk melon, orange, sweet lime, mango, apple (with skin), pear, guava, raspberries, blueberry, apricots, citrus fruits, dried fruit dates, figs, prunes, prunes, raisins etc.

Foods restricted

– Dry fruits and Nuts especially Kaju, Kishmish, Peanuts, Coconut

Fluid-fluid intake is increased to compensate losses from infections and fever. It also helps the kidneys to get rid of the breakdown products from destroyed cancer cells and from drugs themselves.

– Fluid – at least 10-12 glasses of water daily in addition to other fluids
– Soups ( preferably unstrained)
Glass of hot water with lemon taken early in morning is beneficial

What’s desirable-Oral intake of food with nutrient supplements as needed is the most desirable. Further modifications can be made in food texture, temperature, amount, timing, taste, appearance and form can be made to alleviate the symptoms.

A little at a time-Most patient have poor appetite, a small and frequent meal pattern should be adapted to meet increased requirements.

Nourishing and Appealing-foods should be nourishing to the body and appealing in to the soul in terms of colour, aroma and taste to enhance the desire to eat. Meals should be well prepared, tempting and easily digestible to be well tolerated by the patient.

Love and Support– family’s love and patient’s support goes a long way to build a positive mental attitude towards diet as an integral part of the treatment.

Preventive nutrition- Herbs and Spices are Real players in this field.

Garlic, Onion, ginger, oats, sweet potato, soyabean, oilseeds, herbs and spices like black pepper, clove, sage, rosemary, thyme, turmeric etc. are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals like vitamin A, C, E, selenium, manganese, zinc, copper and iron which have been identified to prevent various cancers.

Polyphenols- Since green tea contains polyphenols and has antioxidant properties, it is useful in preventing cancer.

High fiber foods like whole cereals, whole pulses, fruits and vegetables too have a role in cancer prevention as they speeds up the passage of feces so that carcinogens are in minimum contact with the intestinal wall.

Eicosapentaenoic acid-EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid has anti-inflammatory properties and therefore supplementation with Chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, falx seeds, sunflower seeds, fish (Mackerel, Tuna, Salmon, Sardines) etc. reduces production of proinflammatory cytokins such as interleukin-6, interleukin-1 and TNF

Multivitamin/mineral supplement -Micronutrients-deficiency of vitamins and minerals can occur as a result of disease and side effect of treatment. Use of daily multivitamin/mineral supplement may be beneficial.

Please take care….

If nausea and vomiting is there then give small frequent meals, sip beverages slowly with straw and give liquids after every 30-60 min. Gelatin, Sports drinks, Juices/ coconut water, Clear citrus juices, , Strained lemonade, Clear, carbonated drinks, Weak tea can be served.

If mouth is dry- chew sugar free gums or sugar free candy to stimulate salivation. Have sauces, gravies, soups- Clear fat free broth, strained vegetable broth etc. to moisten foods and to make swallowing easier.

If sore mouth and throat- foods and beverages should be at cool to cold temperatures Fruit ices, Popsicles

If loss of appetite- then do some light exercise before meals and remain stress free.

Avoid highly seasoned foods.

Cancer is not the end of life, it’s a new beginning instead.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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2 thoughts on “Nutrition and cancer

  • March 12, 2021 at 9:23 am
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  • March 18, 2021 at 1:28 pm
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