Nutrition is important when fighting cancer

Good diet is key to fighting cancer. Picture: Supplied

Good diet is key to fighting cancer. Picture: Supplied

Published May 19, 2021


The days and weeks right after a cancer diagnosis can be very stressful. Sometimes they're overwhelming.

our food preferences and eating habits are deeply entrenched. getting optimally supportive nutrition can be challenging, but it is vitally important when you have been diagnosed with cancer

As registered dietitian and spokesperson for The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), Omy Naidoo says: “Cancer propels the body into a catabolic state where both muscle mass and fat are breaking down, therefore the nutritional needs of cancer patients increases. To meet this, there needs to be a careful focus on protein, calorie and vitamin intake.

“This need for increased nutrition comes at a time when it’s highly common to experience a general loss of appetite and the side effects of treatment that can seriously impair a patient’s interest in eating. This makes a focus on nutrition a critical part of a patient’s cancer journey.

While nutritional support for cancer patients focuses on avoiding malnutrition, some foods are allies, and some are to be avoided. Another ADSA spokesperson, registered dietitian, Faaizah Laher gives clarity on food.

Foods to avoid during cancer treatment and recovery:

  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Avoid or limit highly refined, highly processed foods.
  • Limit foods high in sugar, including sweets, cakes and sugary drinks.
  • Limit foods that are high in salt.
  • Limit foods that are high in animal fats.
  • Avoid or limit cured meats such as bacon, ham and sausages.

Focus instead on:

  • Eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits every day.
  • Enjoying lean animal protein such as chicken breast and fish.
  • Including more plant-based foods high in protein such as beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, quinoa and soy-based foods.
  • Choosing whole-grain options such as brown bread, brown rice and wholewheat pasta.
  • Increasing your intake of nuts and seeds.
  • Focusing on sources of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados and fatty fish like sardines.

If you or a loved one are dealing with these challenges, then you need to reset your daily nutritional regime:

  • Focus on smaller, lighter meals eaten more frequently than the standard three meals a day.
  • Experiment with healthy snack foods that are always on hand such as wholewheat crackers, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
  • Try out delicious nutrient-rich smoothies.
  • Add nuts and seeds to yoghurt, cereals, smoothies, and even casseroles.
  • Make frozen lolly treats from fresh fruit juices, fruit, yoghurt and smoothies.
  • Use nutritional supplements prescribed by your health professional.

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