Nutrition for cancer survivors

Nutrition for cancer survivors

While good nutrition is important during cancer treatment, eating well after treatment concludes is just as crucial. Kealani Davis, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness, explains what every cancer survivor needs to know about nutrition. Good news: No calorie counting or carb cutting required!   

Good nutrition is important after cancer treatment

"I frequently tell my clients that food is medicine," says Davis. "This notion is even more applicable to cancer survivors because eating certain foods may increase or decrease the risk of cancer."

A diet high in the following foods may increase your risk of cancer or recurrence:

  • High-calorie items, such as fast food, fried food and other convenience foods

  • Processed meat, like sausage, hot dogs and salami

  • Red meat, which includes beef, pork and lamb

  • Refined sugars, which are found in sweetened and juice-flavored beverages, cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream and regular soft drinks

Weight management for cancer survivors

Cancer treatment can lead to weight gain for some people, often because of a combination of stress eating, steroids and chemotherapy. If you have gained weight from treatment, talk to your doctor or see a registered dietitian about how to lose excess pounds.

"Research shows that being overweight not only increases your risk of cancer in general, but also increases the chance of cancer recurrence," says Davis. "There is a lot of value in maintaining a healthy weight after you have completed cancer treatment."

What to eat after cancer treatment

Davis recommends a plant-based, whole food diet. Plant-based means eating more vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts. Whole food means eating food in its natural state, such as a fresh peach with plain yogurt instead of peach-flavored yogurt.

If you are new to healthy eating, she recommends the American Institute for Cancer Research's New American Plate Challenge. She has her clients take the challenge, which teaches them about good nutrition in a simple, non-overwhelming way.

Quick nutrition tips for cancer survivors

Ready to make positive, healthy choices? Try these tips:

  • Add healthy fats to your diet. Fat is not the enemy if you choose healthy fats like nuts, avocados and olive oil. It is important for healthy skin, hair, and nails, and it can help you feel more satisfied with your food choices.

  • Avoid counting calories alone. Instead, focus on eating foods that are good for your body. Empty calories from junk food can leave you hungry again in no time.

  • Cut out sugary beverages. This includes sweetened tea, coffee drinks, juices and sodaeven diet soda. Simply cutting back on the number of calories you drink can lead to weight loss.

  • Eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruit. The more colorful your plate, the better.

  • Empower yourself. Learn which foods are healthy and why. If you know why kale is so good for you, you may be more likely to eat it.  

  • Get to the root of emotional eating. If you find yourself eating when you are sad, angry, happy or stressed, you may be an emotional eater. Cancer treatment is an emotional whirlwind and it may be beneficial for you to talk to a professional counselor who can help you find healthy ways to express your feelings.

  • Practice moderation. Instead of cutting out whole food groups, like carbohydrates, make healthier choices. Swap brown rice for white rice and nuts for potato chips.

  • Stay hydrated. It can be easy to mistake thirst for hunger. Plus, staying hydrated keeps your metabolism humming and your energy level steady.

  • Up your fiber intake. Fiber helps you stay full, regulates digestion, and stabilizes blood sugar and cholesterol.

"Think of your healthy food choices as a lifestyle, not a diet. That is when you will see the best results," says Davis.

See more nutrition tips for cancer survivors.


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