Eating healthfully is especially important for people with cancer. Proper nutrition helps your body fight the cancer.
Many of your treatments will hurt or kill your good cells along with the bad. So eating the right foods also helps with rebuilding healthy cells.
It can also help you cope with the side effects of your treatment.
EvergreenHealth's Halvorson Cancer Center's oncology dietitian is available, free of charge, to guide you through plans and strategies to keep you well-nourished during your cancer journey and beyond.
How can your oncology dietitian help?
The guiding principle for nutrition during cancer treatment is "calories first." It's important that you not try to lose weight at this time; putting your body in a calorie deficit works against the need of your body to stay strong.
Here's what your oncology dietitian will do to help you:
- Offer individualized, one-on-one nutritional counseling to help you maintain strength throughout your cancer treatment.
- Address topics such as how nutrition can support your immune system, help you maintain weight and energy, and help lessen the side effects of treatment.
- Assess your individual nutrition needs to design a specialized nutrition plan that takes into account your unique medical history, current concerns, dietary preferences and cultural background.
- Suggest foods that can help with side effects such as constipation or nausea.
You can meet with your oncology dietitian as often as you feel you need to. She is also available by phone and email, and will continue to be there for you after your cancer treatments end. Your family or caregiver is welcome to speak with her as well.
Does the oncology dietitian provide menus?
Your dietitian won't provide you with standard menus. We've found that while everybody asks for menus, they don't really follow them.
Your dietitian will provide ideas of foods you could try to incorporate. Often these are snacks to have between meals, because you'll probably find yourself eating less at regular meal times.
What types of food are best to eat during cancer treatment?
There is very little that is off the table while you are fighting your cancer.
But there are foods that can help you more than others:
- Protein, including red meat, chicken and an emphasis on fish for its anti-inflammatory fat
- Fruits and vegetables
- Brown rice
- Healthy whole grains
- Dairy products
- A plant-based meal or two during each week if possible
- Supplements such as Boost and Ensure, which offer a full nutrition profile, including carbohydrates, protein and fat along with vitamins and minerals
And snacks are encouraged if you don't have much of an appetite or find you can't eat as much during regular meals.
You don't necessarily need to eat organic during your treatments. The most important thing is that you eat a healthy diet. If you are concerned about pesticides and how your food is grown, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) releases an annual list of its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables and you can tailor your eating to that if you prefer.
What if I'm immuno-suppressed?
If you're immune-suppressed, we do have some restrictions on raw foods, such as sushi; we want you to make sure your fruits and vegetables are well washed; avoid mold ripened cheeses.
Are there specific strategies for specific cancers?
In addition to your oncology dietitian's advice for all cancers, here are some cancer-specific recommendations:
It's recommended that you maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight, exercise, look into Vitamin D or calcium supplements if you are on anti-estrogen hormones.
It's important to keep your appetite up and maintain your weight.
It's recommended that you maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. We encourage you to eat less red meat, more fish and less alcohol.
Side effects of colon/rectal cancer treatment include constipation or diarrhea, so we recommend a low fiber diet. Commonly referred to as the "white food diet", this means eliminating whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables in favor of bread with the bran removed and vegetables that have been peeled and cooked.
Side effects of ovarian cancer treatment include constipation or diarrhea, so we recommend a low fiber diet. Commonly referred to as the "white food diet", this means eliminating whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables in favor of bread with the bran removed and vegetables that have been peeled and cooked.
Treatment for head and neck cancer can make it difficult to swallow, so we recommend food that is liquid, such as soups and smoothies.
What's recommended if I'm having radiation? If I'm having chemotherapy?
The same strategies apply to both, though your oncology dietitian may recommend some tweaks depending on which part of your body is receiving radiation, or what type of chemotherapy you're on.
Radiation treatment in the pelvic region can contribute to diarrhea, so we recommend a low fiber diet. Commonly referred to as the "white food diet", this means eliminating whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables in favor of bread with the bran removed and vegetables that have been peeled and cooked.
Chemotherapy can change how your food tastes, so we recommend experimenting with different herbs, oils, lemon juice, sugar and maple syrup.
What if nothing tastes good?
This is a common complaint. But your oncology dietitian can refer you to resources that can help make your food more flavorful.
Among them: "The Cancer Fighting Kitchen" by Rebecca Katz, available in the Halvorson Cancer Center's Gift Shop. Another is "The Cancer Wellness Cookbook", available at local bookstores and on Amazon.
The American Institute of Cancer Research can also help with resources and ideas.
Cancer Lifeline offers cooking classes at the Halvorson Cancer Center's demonstration kitchen, where you can learn cooking techniques and get recipes for meals that pack a nutritional punch. Check out class dates.
Your Oncology Dietitian Brings Special Skills to Her Role
EvergreenHealth's oncology dietitian is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is also a certified specialist in oncology, and brings two decades of her experience to her role.
Contact the Oncology Dietitian
Our oncology dietitian is available to all patients at the Halvorson Cancer Center. Her contact information will be provided by your nurse navigator.