How to Apply Clean Eating Principles during Your Cancer Recovery

Clean eating promotes healthy eating using common-sense principles that can be easily put into practice. A clean eating plan may help you maintain a good nutritional status during cancer treatment and help you reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence or of a secondary cancer as you enter survivorship.

Here are some points to keep in mind as you move toward a clean diet:

  • Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods as close to their natural state as possible.

    This means avoiding processed food (in other words, anything in a box, can, or container that has a long shelf life and sells itself as a complete meal or side dish and contains a long list of ingredients, some of which you may not recognize) whenever you can and favoring nutrient-dense foods, such as fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish) and dairy.

  • Expand your palate by eating a wide variety of wholesome foods.

    If you read a study that says a particular food has shown promise in fighting your specific type of cancer, you may suddenly be tempted to eat that food morning, noon, and night. But it’s rarely a good idea to focus on one particular food, because this can lead to an overdose of a vitamin, mineral, or phytochemical; result in a food–drug interaction; or cause a food allergy.

    It may also prevent you from reaping nutrients from other foods, which may be equally or even more beneficial to your health.

  • Plan on eating five or six times daily.

    Eating small, frequent meals (often referred to as grazing) is healthier than gorging yourself with large meals. Spreading out your meals helps keep your blood glucose levels stable, provides a steady stream of energy, and helps ward off any treatment-related gastrointestinal effects.

  • Use the New American Plate to guide your meal ratios.

    The American Institute for Cancer Research developed the New American Plate to guide eating to optimize nutrition. This method comprises a plate made up of two-thirds (or more) of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains or beans and one-third (or less) of an animal protein.

    If you’re a vegetarian, substitute a plant-based source of protein, such as beans or tofu, for the meat. Alternatively, you can use a whole grain that’s high in protein, like quinoa.

  • Strive for more than five fruits and vegetables, and get colorful!

    Fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods on Earth. They’re high in vitamins, minerals, and thousands of phytochemicals, which work together to benefit bodies in ways you can’t even imagine. A considerable amount of disease-fighting power is contained in the very compounds that give produce its pigment.

    By varying the color of the produce you eat, you’ll get a wider array of nutrients. Plus, you’ll be creating a beautiful plate — and, as they say, you eat with your eyes first. To see your how many fruits and vegetables you should be consuming every day based on your age, gender, and physical activity level, try the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s fruit and vegetable calculator.

  • Understand that you may have to make allowances.

    Clean eating enables flexibility, so if your treatment or cancer is preventing you from focusing on clean foods or you can’t eat them in the proper ratio, don’t stress over it. It’s important for you to nourish yourself however your body will accept nutrition, and if that means turning to canned soup, crackers, and soda for a while, that’s fine.

    As your food tolerance and energy levels improve, reintroduce clean foods to your diet and cut back on the processed ones.

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