Your Nutrition Goals While Battling Cancer

When you’re going through cancer treatment, eating the healthiest foods may not always be possible. You may be dealing with gastrointestinal issues, experiencing uncomfortable mouth sores, or feeling so fatigued that you simply don’t have the energy to prepare any meal, let alone a healthy one.

That’s why when you’re going through cancer treatment, you’ll have two somewhat competing high-level nutrition goals:

  • Quantity: First and foremost, you need to consume the right quantity of macronutrients to provide the right amount of calories, or energy, to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and composition, while also fueling your normal daily activities.

    Studies have shown that as little as a 5 percent loss of body weight can lead to poor outcomes during chemotherapy, including increased side effects and a decreased quality of life.

    When you’re going through treatment, your body may need more “fuel” in the form of calories and protein to repair itself more rapidly from the effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments.

  • Quality: Because eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods protects against malnourishment, strengthens your immune system, and provides your body with a great source of energy, you need to eat such foods as much as possible when you’re able.

    This may not always be possible when you’re undergoing treatment, but after you’ve completed treatment, this goal is a good one to strive for, along with achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Some studies indicate that a healthy diet paired with a healthy weight can help protect against cancer recurrence and secondary cancers.

In summation, if you’re struggling with a poor appetite or the side effects of treatment, your focus should be on getting the right quantity of calories and protein to maintain your weight. If this means turning to a box of macaroni and cheese in your pantry, that’s fine. But if your appetite is good, you should focus on trying to improve your diet by focusing on eating clean.

The most recent guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) focus on eating clean and engaging in regular physical activity to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

They recommend eating more plant-based foods, like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. They also recommend eating less calorie-dense foods, fast foods, and processed foods, as well as consuming fewer sugary drinks. In addition, they recommend limiting red meat, processed meats, alcohol, and salt.

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