Making Healthy Cancer Diet Choices During Treatment

Making healthy choices during cancer treatment | Anova Cancer Care | Couple preparing fresh food

How to craft a cancer diet and lifestyle plan fit for CyberKnife treatment

It’s likely you’ve heard that maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is a critical factor in the battle to beat cancer. You’ve probably also heard horror stories about how difficult that can be during cancer treatment.

Both cancer and cancer treatment can cause extreme fatigue. Having the energy and appetite to prepare food can become difficult, and cancer treatment can also cause foods to taste unpleasant or different from what you’re used to.

Thankfully, CyberKnife delivers radiation to very small, targeted areas and is known for having a much smaller impact on quality of life, with fewer chronic side effects than chemotherapy or traditional radiation. Most CyberKnife patients are spared many of the diet and health difficulties frequently associated with cancer treatment.

However, while a CyberKnife patient may not face some of these cancer treatment challenges, battling cancer still takes a toll on your body, and well-rounded diet and lifestyle choices continue to play a key role in cancer treatment success. This means making healthy choices should be part of your overall cancer treatment plan.

Cancer fighting foods & the do’s and don’ts of a cancer diet

For starters, eating healthy does not mean eating perfectly. A good cancer diet after you’ve been diagnosed doesn’t have to be all about kale smoothies and roasted Brussels sprouts. But concentrating on getting the proper nutrients and hydration is critical to help you feel better and stay stronger through the whole course of cancer treatment.

To avoid malnutrition, weakness and fatigue, your cancer diet should be full of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and good fats. Focus on whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean meat and grains.

Following are some cancer fighting foods and cancer diet tips you can use as a guide.

Plan ahead & don’t be afraid to mix it up

Treatment may have you feeling somewhat nauseous or dizzy, so it can be helpful to prepare your favorite foods and freeze them for when you need them. You may find that foods you used to love no longer taste as appealing and foods you used to dislike taste very good. Don’t be afraid to branch out.

Boost your greens

Aim for at least two to three cups of mixed fruit and vegetables each day. Vegetables and fruit are full of fiber and can help you effectively manage your weight.

Diversify proteins

During treatment meat may not sound as appealing or may have a higher fat concentration than your doctor would advise. Fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, nut butters, tofu, or smoothies or shakes are all high in protein and provide a great reprieve from meat.

Pack a snack

Some cancer patients find it advantageous to graze or eat small snacks through the day. Snacks with high protein content like yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cheese and crackers, or dried fruit with nuts can help keep you full and give you much needed energy.

Hydrate creatively

If plain water seems unappealing, you can get creative by adding fresh fruits and vegetables like lemon or cucumber. Tea, milk, broth, sports drinks or unsweetened electrolyte powders can also help you stay hydrated.

Add a probiotic

Some studies have found that taking probiotics can improve treatment outcomes. Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are good additions to your diet that can boost the good bacteria in your gut.

Change up cooking techniques

Baking or broiling foods can reduce the fat content of your favorite meal to make it healthier. Swapping high-fat products for lower-fat products can also help reduce the fat content of your meals.

Keep a food & symptom diary

This can be particularly helpful if you experience a lot of nausea or other food related symptoms. Track what you’re eating and when you’re eating to better understand if certain foods are irritating your stomach. This will help you determine how often you need to eat to avoid feeling drained.

No boozy brunches

Alcohol use is a risk factor for a number of cancers, and alcohol can have negative interactions with medications. So it’s best not to touch it. Even trace amounts in mouthwashes may be best avoided, as they can irritate and cause mouth sores. Mouth sores are more common during treatment of cancers in the head and neck area.

Food safety during cancer treatment

Surgery, chemotherapy and some types of radiation therapy can decrease your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. CyberKnife does not suppress the immune system as many traditional radiation treatments can, but it’s always important to practice precaution during food preparation.

Here’s what you can do in the kitchen to avoid adding foodborne illness to your cancer and treatment symptoms:

  • Wash hands, vegetables and fruits thoroughly
  • Cook foods thoroughly, ensuring meat is cooked to the temperature suggested on the package or in your favorite cook book
  • Handle raw meats, fish, poultry and eggs with extra caution, keeping them away from other foods and cleaning all utensils and surfaces that raw meat has touched
  • Avoid raw honey, milk and fruit juice; always choose pasteurized versions instead
  • Store foods in a refrigerator or freezer (below 40°F) right after buying them to limit the growth of germs
  • Avoid salad bars, sushi and raw or undercooked meat and fish
  • If you are concerned about the safety (purity) of the well water in your home, you can ask your local public health department to check it for bacteria.

Busting cancer diet myths

Cancer causing agents are constantly researched, and there’s a lot we do and still don’t know about what causes cancer. However, there’s also a lot of misinformation about cancer and diet, so here are some of the most rampant rumors debunked.

Does sugar cause cancer?

Many people believe that refined sugar causes cancer, and that removing it from your diet can dramatically improve treatment outcomes. There’s no evidence to support the idea that including sugar in your diet makes cancer worse, or that removing sugar from your diet will “shrink” cancer.

Sugar does not cause cancer, but a diet high in sugar can lead to weight gain, which does increase your risk of cancer. So eating foods with sugar sparingly is a good step in a cancer diet.

What about artificial sweeteners?

There is still more research needed, but preliminary research has not uncovered a clear link between artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consumption.

Can superfoods like kale prevent and treat cancer?

Not only does a garlic, beetroot, kale and green tea smoothie sound terrible, there is little evidence that designated “superfoods” can prevent or treat cancer. While the term “superfood” has little scientific basis, you should still eat fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Cancer is incredibly complex, and your diet is just one small factor in getting cancer free.

Does microwaving plastic containers make food cancerous?

Not necessarily. Some plastics with BPA or other chemicals that make the plastic soft can be dangerous to human health, but a majority of the plastic pre-prepared food comes in reusable plastic containers that are microwave safe. Single use bottles, margarine containers, yogurt cups and other single use containers can contain chemicals, however.

To determine whether a container is safe to microwave, you can generally find a warning on the box or container itself. If you are uncomfortable microwaving FDA approved or BPA-free containers, you can always switch to glass containers.

Cancer lifestyle changes & choices

Here are some other lifestyle changes and choices to consider during cancer treatment.

Exercise

Regular light-to-moderate exercise has a lot of benefits during cancer treatment and recovery. It can help you control weight, lessen nausea, lower the risk of and improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve your self-esteem. Yoga, dancing, walking, swimming, leisurely bike rides and tai chi are all gentle options.

Rest

It’s also important to balance the benefits of staying active with the priority of not getting too fatigued. Give yourself ample rest. Your activity level will depend on the type of cancer and your treatment plan, so it can be beneficial to discuss your routine with your oncologist.

Managing weight

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it can be beneficial to discuss your diet and weight with your oncologist. They may recommend losing, gaining or maintaining weight in order to remain strong and healthy through treatment.

The CyberKnife difference on cancer treatment impact

CyberKnife does not have the same negative side effects as chemotherapy and traditional forms of radiation. Most patients remain highly active through their treatment, and do not face certain health difficulties such as severe nausea or loss of appetite.

Cancer risks and symptoms vary greatly from person to person, as do treatment symptoms. Your symptoms are likely to vary depending on the stage of treatment. It’s important to maintain an open line of communication with your doctor throughout treatment in order to manage food related symptoms and maintain a healthy quality of life.

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