6 Nutrition Tips For People with Cancer

A senior woman with cancer stands at her kitchen counter as she works to prepare an assortment of fruits and vegetables. She is dressed casually in a sweater and wearing a headscarf as she looks over the produce and makes an effort to maintain a healthy diet during her Chemotherapy

October 14, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Roshani Patel, M.D.

Breast cancer patients and survivors are often told that a healthy lifestyle is a key factor in successfully treating cancer and keeping it from recurring. However, the practical advice for how to incorporate better nutrition into an already-full life isn’t always provided.

Roshani Patel, M.D., medical director for breast surgery at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, wants to make it easier for cancer patients to eat well. To that end, she leads grocery store tours twice a month, along with dieticians from Hackensack Meridian Health and ShopRite of Belmar.

Dr. Patel notes that fad diet information is abundant online, and selecting foods and reading labels can be overwhelming. She started grocery store tours so that patients can benefit from firsthand, trusted advice for grocery shopping and healthy eating.

Top 6 Nutrition Tips

1. Balance your plate 

To get enough protein and fiber, Dr. Patel suggests that meals include: 

  • 25 percent proteins
  • 25 percent whole grains
  • 35 percent vegetables
  • 15 percent fruits 

She says protein is especially important during cancer treatment for the prevention of edema (swelling). If you’re too tired or sick to cook, Dr. Patel recommends low-sugar protein powders, nuts and legumes, and lean meats that are easy to prepare.

2. Hydrate well 

Cancer patients, especially those experiencing side effects from chemotherapy, often get dehydrated. Water alone isn’t enough to maintain hydration; electrolytes are needed. 

Dr. Patel recommends adding natural sources of electrolytes, such as cucumber or watermelon chunks or orange zest or peel, to your water rather than buying sports drinks, which contain sugar or artificial colors and sweeteners.

3. Keep it simple

Whole and unprocessed or minimally processed foods are best. For packaged goods, fewer (and easily pronounceable) ingredients are better. For example, look for crackers that contain only whole wheat, oil and salt.

4. Snack smart

Dr. Patel understands the urge to reach for something easy and tasty like chips when you need a burst of energy, so she recommends preparing grab-and-go snacks ahead of time. For example, she suggests a reusable container version of a charcuterie board with cheese cubes, berries, olives, nuts and other finger foods.

5. Reduce sugar

Sugar is a major dietary cause of inflammation. Dr. Patel recommends reading labels carefully, since sugar is often hidden in packaged goods that you may not associate with it, such as in bread, condiments and other products. Sugar may be labeled as glucose, fructose, cane, dextrose, sucrose, maltose and galactose. Women should have less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (24 grams); men should have less than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day (26 grams).

Artificial sweeteners aren’t much better and actually increase sugar cravings and craving for food in general. Artificial sweeteners can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, which is important in healing to reduce inflammation in the body.  

6. Know your store

Grocery stores place items strategically to maximize impulse purchases of higher-profit (and usually less healthy) products, and change things up regularly to make shoppers see more choices while looking for things on their list. Dr. Patel says understanding how your store does this can help you stick to the basics. It’s often a good idea to shop the perimeter of stores, where fresh produce, dairy and meats—rather than processed foods—are positioned.

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Meet our source: Roshani Patel, M.D.
  • To make an appointment with a breast specialist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website
  • Grocery tours will take place twice a month at ShopRite of Belmar, New Jersey. The first monthly tour focuses on patients currently undergoing chemotherapy, with tips for alleviating side effects and eating well when you don’t feel like eating at all. The second monthly tour provides general nutritional information for breast cancer patients and survivors. If you are interested in attending a grocery store tour, call 732-263-7960. If the next session is full, you can be put on an email list to register for future events.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

 
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