Oncology: Healthy Eating Before, During and After Cancer Treatments
There is currently no evidence that one single food or dietary supplement can protect against or cure cancer alone. There is proof that eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and keeping a healthy body weight are the best defenses against some types of cancers. Cancer and cancer treatments can affect the way you eat, the way your body uses the nutrients from foods, and the way your body tolerates different foods. Good nutrition throughout cancer treatment may help you:
• Maintain strength and energy
• Maintain body weight
• Meet nutrient needs such as vitamins and minerals
• Have better tolerance of side-effects related to treatment
• Fight infection
• Improve healing and recovery
Do you know how to plan healthy, balanced meals? Start by using your plate. The New American Plate, developed by the American Institute for Cancer Research, guides you in creating a plate that will help you lower your risk for cancer, as well as other diseases. Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. This handout will provide tips for creating a healthy, balanced plate and healthy lifestyle habits.
Focus on Plant Foods. Plant foods are low in calories and have nutrients that keep our bodies healthy. Plant foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and legumes. Fill at least 2/3 of your plate at meals with plant foods.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (cancer fighting nutrients). Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, salt, and calories and do not contain cholesterol. Aim to eat at least five servings of fruits and five servings of vegetables in a variety of colors every day.
What Counts as a Serving of Fruit?
• 1 medium piece of fruit
• ½ cup fruit
• ½ cup of 100 percent juice (limit to 1 serving per day)
• ¼ cup dried fruit
What Counts as a Serving of Vegetables?
• ½ cup raw non-leafy or cooked vegetables
• 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
• ½ cup cooked beans or peas
Including More Fruits and Vegetables:
Add fresh or dried fruit to green, leafy salads. Include a variety of fruits for snacks like chopped apples, banana, raisins, prunes, kiwi, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, or oranges. Add fresh or dried fruit to oatmeal. Add extra vegetables to soups, meat loaf, and casseroles. Include fresh vegetables for snacks like carrot sticks.
Each day try to eat six to eight servings of grains.
What Counts as a Serving of Grains?
• ½ cup pasta, rice, or cooked cereal
• 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal (¼ -1 ¼ cup, varies by cereal)
Including More Wholesome Whole Grains:
Choose whole grains whenever possible. Whole grains contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than white, refined grains. Look for whole grain flour in the ingredient list of breads, buns, bagels, English muffins, pasta, cereals, etc. Avoid enriched flours. Substitute whole grain flour for up to half of white flour in recipes. Use whole-wheat pasta and brown rice rather than white pasta or rice.
Beans and Peas
Beans and peas include lentils, split peas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, and black-eyed peas. Green peas, green lima beans, and green beans are not considered to be part of the beans and peas group. Beans and peas are available dry, canned, and frozen. While part of the vegetable group, these foods are also excellent sources of plant protein, fiber, and nutrients like iron and zinc.
What Counts as a Serving of Beans and Legumes?
• ½ cup cooked dried beans or peas
Including More Beans and Legumes:
Add canned beans and legumes to soups, stews, and salads.
Lower Intake of Unhealthy Fats. Fat is important in an overall healthy diet. We need fat to carry some vitamins throughout the body and to protect body tissues. Not all fats are created equal. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are heart healthy fats, and should be chosen more often. Saturated fat and trans fat can increase your risk of heart disease if consumed excessively.
Sources of Monounsaturated Fat to Include
• Olive oil
• Canola oil
• Peanut oil, peanuts, and peanut butter
• Sunflower oil
• Safflower oil
• Macadamia nuts
• Almonds and almond butter
Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat to Include
• Safflower oil
• Grapeseed oil
• Corn oil
• Fatty fish
• Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
• Wheat germ
• Sunflower seeds
• Sesame seeds
Sources of Saturated Fat to Limit
• Fatty meats
• Full fat dairy products
• Coconut oil
Sources of Trans Fat to Limit
• Stick margarine
• Fried foods
• Snack foods and baked goods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
Decrease Intake of Red Meat and Processed Meats. Protein is important for growth and repair of body tissue and for a healthy immune system. Some proteins are better choices than others. Protein from animal sources is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than protein from plant foods. Limit the amount of animal protein you eat to 1/3 of your plate or less at each meal (3-4 ounces).
What Counts as a Serving of Protein?
• 3 ounces cooked meat, poultry, or seafood (size of a deck of playing cards)
• ½ cup cooked dried beans
• 1/3 cup nuts
• 1 ounce of cheese (size of 4 small dice or 1-inch cube)
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup tofu
• The American Cancer Society recommends that people with cancer and
cancer survivors can eat 1-2 servings of soy foods per day as part of a
healthy, plant based diet. Avoid soy isoflavone supplements (capsules or
pills) until more research is done.
• Eat no more than 18 ounces (cooked weight) of red meat per week, including
beef, veal, pork and lamb. Red meats are higher in saturated fat and
cholesterol than other meats.
• Avoid processed meats with preservatives, like ham, bacon, salami, sausage,
and hot dogs.
• Stay away from meats that are preserved by curing, smoking, and salting.
• Choose lean protein sources more often like poultry without skin, fish, beans,
• Trim all visible fat off of meats before cooking.
• Choose canned fish packed in water rather than in oil.
• Eat non-meat protein foods more often including: tofu, dried beans and peas,
lentils, nuts and nut butters, soy products, whole grains, cottage cheese,
Greek yogurt, yogurt, and cheese.
Lower Intake of Added Sugar. Limit processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. These foods are high in empty calories, which mean they are high in calories and low in nutrients.
• Avoid drinking high sugar beverages, like soft drinks or fruit flavored drinks.
Choose drinks like water, unsweetened tea, and coffee instead.
• Limit how often you eat sweet treats, such as cake, cookies, pie, pastries, and
Stay Hydrated. Drinking enough fluids throughout the day is as important as eating a healthy diet and getting enough calories. Your goal should be to drink 8-12, 8-ounce glasses of liquids each day. You may need more fluids with chemotherapy. Water is a great choice, but you may also choose other beverages, such as 100% fruit juices, tea, and coffee.
Limit Alcohol Use. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and low in nutrients. If you do not drink alcohol, you should not start. If alcohol is consumed, men should limit intake to 2 drinks per day and women should limit intake to 1 drink per day.
What Counts as a Serving of Alcohol?
• 12 ounces of beer
• 4 ounces of wine
• 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
• 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
Cut out the Salt. High sodium (salt) foods may include processed foods, such as frozen meals, bread, pizza, canned soups, chips, sauces, and processed meats. Fast foods and foods from restaurants tend to be high in sodium. Cooking most meals from scratch makes it easier to control the amount of sodium you eat. Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Label so you can choose healthy foods and drinks low in sodium. Choose low sodium products with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving and limit sodium to 2400 milligrams per day.
Avoid High-Dose Vitamin Mineral Supplements. Focus on getting your nutrition through a healthy, balanced diet rather than taking high-doses of vitamins and minerals. Before taking any supplements, check with a registered dietitian or medical doctor.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight. Carrying extra body fat around the waistline is harmful to your health. It is important to be as lean as possible without being underweight. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool that helps to identify if your weight is putting you at risk for health problems. A healthy BMI range for most people is 18.5-24.9 kg/m2. Maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce cancer risk as well as your risk for other diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Be Physically Active. Regular exercise keeps hormone levels healthy, strengthens the immune system, aids in healthy digestion, and prevents weight gain. Include at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. For the most benefit, work towards 60 minutes of exercise each day. Limit sedentary activities, like watching television or playing video games. Remember, any type of exercise is better than none.
For more information on the New American Plate, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research’s website at www.aicr.org.
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you would like to schedule an appointment with the Registered Dietitian at the Carbone Cancer Center, please call 608-265-1700
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 11/13/2013
Copyright © 11/13/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#398
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