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What you should know about Cancer and Nutrition

written by Vidya Sury May 25, 2012

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Fighting cancer is tough. The physical challenges are easier to overcome with a positive outlook. The mental challenges are easier to withstand with a strong and healthy physique. One of the most important parts of physical health is nutrition and it’s even more important for those who have cancer. A healthy body is better equipped to fight the spread of the disease, recover from potentially destructive therapies, and remain healthy once the disease has gone into remission.
The basic principles of good nutrition start with a diet rich in whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. While difficult to avoid these days, refined grains and processed foods lose most of their nutrients and vitamins during the process that preserves them. The nutrients and vitamins lost are those that make food healthy. Cancer patients especially need the vitamins found in whole foods because they are the source of potential ability to help fight cancer.
The most important tactic is to plan ahead. Have a nutritional game plan for each stage of the process: before, during, and after. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
What will the patient eat?
Identify as many simple, healthy meals and foods that the patient enjoys as possible. There’s a good chance that they’ll have difficulty ingesting anything but soft, smooth foods at some point, so make a point of keeping those things available.
How will the patient get their food?
Cancer treatment is a long, tiring process. Ideally the patient will have people who can help him or her with both obtaining food and preparing it. If needed, meals can be precooked and frozen for easy access.
Where and when will the patient eat?
Oftentimes treatments involve a lot of time commuting to doctor’s offices and sitting around in hospitals. Traditional meals aren’t always an option, which is why smaller, portable portions an essential part of any cancer patient’s nutritional plan.
While the basics of nutrition are important, remember that everyone’s body reacts differently to cancer and its treatment. Some people lose their appetite while others are able to keep up their normal diet. Each patient should listen to their body and let that be a guide through the process, otherwise, things could get worse.
There will also be fluctuations in appetite and energy levels from moment to moment. A patient should take advantage of feeling well by eating more or preparing more meals for when their energy is gone.
Nutrition after diagnosis and before treatment should focus on preparation. A healthy diet should begin right away. A diet rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, and in natural fats, such as olive oil, is best.
During treatment, a patient’s body may have unexpected reactions. It’s important that patients maintain a healthy weight and provide fuel for the body to recover. Protein is recommended as it aids in the building and repair of muscles and organs. As was stated above, however, each patient will react differently and dietary needs should be adjusted accordingly. Treatments for mesothelioma patients, for example, tend to cause weight loss, which would necessitate a high-calorie diet.
It is also imperative that cancer survivors not take their good fortune lightly and continue to eat well after treatment has finished. Doing so will help keep the cancer in remission. A diet rich in whole foods, especially plant foods, provides a variety of nutrients that have been linked to cancer prevention. They keep the body strong in case of further health difficulties.
This is a guest post by Jillian McKee. Thank you, Jillian!

Jillian McKee is a Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009. Jillian spends most her time on outreach efforts and spreading information about the integration of complementary and alternative medicine when used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment.

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