Eat this or that: Eating well and fighting cancer

November 02, 2022 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

Good nutrition is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle and is even more important if you are fighting cancer. A healthy diet can help you feel better, fight infections and keep your body strong. A nutritious diet can also help you get through and recover more quickly from treatments.

A proper diet when you have cancer is different than following the guidelines recommended by the typical food pyramid. The National Cancer Institute says eating habits that are good for cancer patients can be very different from the usual healthy eating guidelines.

Depending on the type of treatment you’re undergoing, you may need to change your diet to help build strength and fight off side effects. This might mean eating things you don’t normally eat — like high fat, high calorie foods. Your cancer team can help you determine a specific treatment plan for your type of cancer.

If you can, try to plan ahead before your cancer treatment begins by:

  • Shopping for foods you know you can eat when you are sick, like chicken noodle soup and Jell-O.
  • Stocking your pantry and freezer with some of your favorite foods or pre-making meals and freezing them ahead of time.
  • Talking with your family and friends about ways they can help you shop and cook meals.

When treatment begins, maximize nutrition by eating:

  • A variety of foods. Don’t be afraid to try new foods or try foods that you didn’t like before cancer treatment. Meals you didn’t like before may taste different during treatment.
  • Plant-based food, including beans and peas a few times a week
  • Fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals
  • Lean protein and limiting the amount of processed and red meat
  • Low-fat dairy and reduced fat cheese

If you are looking for healthy recipes, the American Cancer Society has many recipes for people with cancer. There are also websites with recipes to help those battling specific conditions.

Keep in mind that food, not supplements, is the best source of vitamins and minerals. Diet and nutrition, as well as a physical activity, like walking, can help you stay active. Talk to your care team, listen to your body, and change your diet and exercise levels as needed throughout treatment. 

Learn more about cancer support services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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