Weight loss, fatigue, and low immunity are common problems faced by people who have cancer. The role of nutritionists in advising the right diet to patients becomes quite critical. It is the selection of foods having the appropriate quantity and type of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and micronutrients that lies at the heart of the 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 Vitamin C sources.
Cereals, milk, and fatty fish have high Vitamin D levels. Almonds, broccoli, hazelnuts, spinach, and sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E.
Beans, peas, and leafy green vegetables are rich in folic acid, while 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, and 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 dissimilar terms as ancient medicine systems. Personalized diet is not the focus in modern diet planning, but recommended food recipes are nearly universally local and based on what is available locally.
The demand for energy in cancer patients is particularly high. Cancer patients lose a lot of weight due to loss of muscle and stored body fat. Patients must choose foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. These are 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.
Additional reading on natural solutions for various diseases:
Natural Solutions series – cancer, diabetes and obesity