Weight loss, fatigue, and low immunity are common problems faced by people who have cancer. It is the selection of foods with the appropriate quantity and type of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and micronutrients that lie at the heart of nutrition management of cancer patients.
Foods are known to build and maintain a strong and healthy immune system. Foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, squashes, and tomato are rich in carotenoids, converted to Vitamin A by the body.
Bananas, baked potatoes, chickpeas, certain types of fish (e.g., tuna), and lean chicken are rich in Vitamin B6. Citrus fruits, strawberries, guava, leafy vegetables, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach are a source of Vitamin C.
Cereals, milk, and fatty fish have high levels of Vitamin D. At the same time, almonds, broccoli, hazelnuts, spinach, and sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E. Beans, peas, and leafy green vegetables are rich in folic acid. In contrast, poultry, seafood, beans, broccoli, and kale are good sources of iron.
Selenium is found in barley, broccoli, garlic, sardines, tuna, and zinc in chickpeas, baked beans, lean meat, poultry, yogurt, and crabs. Vitamins and minerals are critical to building the immune system, which helps the body fight infections and disease.
Modern-day dietitians look at diet and nutrition for cancer patients and survivors in not too dissimilar terms as ancient medicine systems.
The demand for energy in cancer patients is particularly high. Cancer patients lose a lot of weight due to the loss of muscle and stored body fat. Patients must choose foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. These are found in vegetable oils (such as olive, peanut, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, flaxseed) and seafood.
Saturated fats are to be avoided. These can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Foods to avoid include meat, poultry, milk, cheese, butter, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil. Trans-fat-containing foods such as margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and animal products are not recommended. Trans fats increase the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol.
Carbohydrates meet the immediate need for energy. The best source of carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These also contain vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients. Foods containing insoluble fiber are highly recommended. These help in easy stool evacuation, a problem often faced by cancer patients.
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine systems are more personalized. The diet described above is from modern cancer diet literature. At the end of the day, if you keep the basic principles of diet for cancer patients in view and stick to what works best for you, then you are good.