Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eating Right during Treatment and Beyond

During cancer treatment, you may have a complicated relationship with food. Sometimes, your different treatments affect what and how much you can eat. Sometimes, eating is the very last thing you feel like doing, especially if you're suffering from side effects such as nausea and dry mouth. Throughout treatment, though, one of the best things you can do is to eat a balanced diet that gives your body all the nutrition it needs to help you get well. After treatment, the same holds true: Eating well can help you feel well, and it can even help you lower your risk of additional cancers in the future.

The good news is, whether you've just begun cancer treatment, have just finished, or are just looking for ways to improve your health, the basic principles for eating well are the same. Although you may need to adjust your diet to meet your specific needs, following the guidelines below can put you on the path to good nutrition.

Eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and many other substances that work together to help your body get the nutrients it needs — and potentially lower your risk of certain kinds of cancers. An easy way to fit in five servings is to eat a fruit or veggie at every meal, and then choose fruit or vegetables as a healthy snack. By simply making this change, you'll be well on your way to five a day.

Choose whole grains over processed and refined grains and sugars. Because whole grain foods aren't processed as much as other foods, they often retain more nutrients and are higher in fiber, both good things when it comes to getting the best nutrition. Aim to get at least three servings of whole grains a day, and limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and starches, such as candy, cakes, cookies, pastries, sweetened cereals, and other high-sugar foods.

Limit your intake of processed meats and red meats. Red meats and processed meats like hot dogs can both be high in saturated fat, and they may contain other substances that could increase your risk for prostate and colon cancers. If you eat meat, go for lean cuts and smaller portions, and choose meats such as chicken and fish instead of beef, pork, and lamb.

You may have to go to different sources to get this information, but you should get it soon after treatment ends. Some doctors and hospitals are now helping patients create survivor care plans as they reach the end of cancer treatment. If you're working with your health care team, your plan may also include:

Contact information for support groups

Other support resources

Tips for living a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence or new cancers

A schedule for screening for recurrences or to look for new cancers

Information about your legal rights regarding employment and insurance

Following these guidelines is a good start, but every person is different, and your nutritional needs may change during and after treatment. If you want help determining how you can get the very best nutrition for you, talk with your doctor or a nutrition expert, such as a dietician. He or she can give you ideas for ways you can eat better, work with you to create a meal plan, and help address any side effects that might be impacting you.