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Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

Nutrition plays an important role in overall cancer treatment and healing.

Cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, and T-cell therapy.  No matter which cancer diagnosis, mechanism of onset, or even genetic predisposition, a nutritious diet, together with regular physical activity, is vital for not only cancer prevention but also for treatment and recovery.

Should I only eat organic foods?

Let us first mention: the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far surpass any risk associated with pesticides- organic or not.

Cancer is a costly disease. Buying organic foods also be costly. Organic foods can be nutritious, however, there is no strong evidence to support organic being more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.

Organic foods are produced using farming practices that restrict the use of certain but not all pesticides and fertilizers. Most synthetics are prohibited in organicunless there is no naturally occurring alternative.

Organic or not, fruits and vegetables properly cleaned can be safely consumed during cancer treatment Neutropenic patients should talk to their dietitian and oncologist before consuming raw fruits and vegetables.

Does sugar feed cancer?

Nutrients feed cells. Therefore, all nutrients- carbohydrates, proteins, and fats feed cancer.

This myth comes from two facts that alone are true, but together, they are out of context. 1) Excess consumption of high-sugar foods can lead to excess adipose tissue and 2) Increased body fat can increase the risk of developing diseases, such as cancer.

Carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and of course, sugar. Although the science is much more complex, when we consume carbohydrates, our body breaks this down to be used for energy. Glucose is the primary source of energy our brains and muscles use for energy.

Carbohydrates are the ideal source of energy our bodies use, although, when there are not enough carbohydrates on board, our bodies resort to using fat and protein.

We must remember to look at the source of sugar! Highly-refined, high-calorie foods that may contain added sugars are traditionally low in nutrients and dietary fiber. Foods like these have been associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of developing diseases.

Consuming carbohydrate sources such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy means a diet rich in vitamins,
minerals, and phytochemicals that can help to defend the body against cancer and other diseases.

How do I prevent weight loss?

Maintaining weight can seem like an uphill battle during chemotherapy. On days when you have an appetite, try to get enough calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This is important in controlling weight loss. Chemotherapy and other medications can cause loss of appetite and dysgeusia (altered taste). Some tips to prevent weight loss and increase calorie content include:

  • Replacing water or broth with milk in soups and cooked cereals
  • Adding butter, salad dressing, and oils to vegetables
  • Adding extra protein to soups by slicing cooked egg white into the soup
  • Eating when you do have an appetite

If you are doing your treatment at an in-patient facility, your weight is monitored very closely, and the oncology dietitian works closely with your oncologist to prevent extreme and rapid weight loss.

How do I deal with nausea and vomiting?

There is some evidence that ginger may be helpful in further reducing or eliminating nausea and vomiting during and after chemotherapy treatments. Some patients find chewing gum helps with reducing nausea and vomiting. If the smell of food makes you nauseous, try avoiding strong spices and seasonings. Call in some help from friends and family members if preparing foods makes it hard to have an appetite.

Cancer is a disease that impacts everyone in the patient’s support network. If you have questions about nutrition during cancer treatment and recovery, contact our dietitians at Banister Nutrition at 405-755-7561.

KD

American Institute for Cancer Research. Available at www.aicr.org. Accessed January 15, 2020.
Barański, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G., . . . Leifert, C. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(5), 794-811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366
Dangour AD, Dodhia SK, Hayter A et al. (2009) Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Medicine, 90, 680-685.
Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE et al. (2012) Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review.  Annals of Internal Medicine, 157, 348-366.

Sugar-Coated

The American Heart Association recommends no more then 6 TEASPOONS (25 grams or 100 calories) of added sugar per day for women, and 9 TEASPOONS (38 grams or 150 calories) per day for men. To put things into perspective…

1 Tablespoon Ketchup = 3.7 grams Sugar

1 Quaker Chewy Bar = 7 grams Sugar

1 Cup apple juice = 24 grams Sugar

1 Serving Yoplait Fruit, Nonfat Yogurt = 47 grams Sugar

Added Sugar

With the new Nutrition Facts label, there is now a column for “Added Sugar”. This is great information to have and it tells us how many grams of calorie containing sweeteners/added sugars have been added. Consuming added sugars in excess can cause weight gain and obesity because they do not contain nutrients and are a form of empty calories. In large amounts, these sweeteners rapidly increase blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and triglycerides. When these levels are elevated, your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses increases.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, aka non-nutritive sweeteners, are another type of sweetener that can be added to food products and are widely known for being added to diet beverages. They are low and even no calorie sweeteners such as Nutrasweet, Sweet One, Sweet’N Low, and Splenda. In their chemical forms they are Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin, and Sucralose. This type of sweetener also provides no nutrient benefits for the body. Studies show that daily consumption of artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet drinks, are associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes (Gardener, et al., 2019).

Artificially sweetened beverages can be used among consumers to decrease calories but use of these beverages should be limited-time and as an in-between while transitioning to drinking water only.

Real Sugar/Natural Sugar

Not all sugar is bad. Naturally occurring sugars in food such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) provide important nutrients. Whole fruits contain antioxidants and fiber, which helps you feel full for longer and provide metabolic benefits. The natural sugars combined with the other nutrients in these foods are digested more slowly than the added sugars which helps stabilize blood glucose levels. When given the option, always choose whole fruit over dried fruit or fruit juice.

 

As always, we recommend a balance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. However, there is room for the occasional Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper in moderation. Living a healthy lifestyle is about variety, moderation and making choices for YOU and your health!

KM

 

 

Studies and Pictures Cited:

  1. Gardener, H., & Elkind, M. S. (2019). Artificial Sweeteners, Real Risks. Stroke,50(3), 549-551. doi:10.1161/strokeaha.119.024456
  2. Strawbridge, H. (2018, January 08). Artificial sweeteners: Sugar-free, but at what cost? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030
  3. Photo by Mikael Stenberg on Unsplash