The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Care

March is National Nutrition Month.  A nutrition education and information campaign, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

We all know that good nutrition is important for good health.  This statement is even truer for cancer patients.  Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after cancer treatment can help patients feel better and stay stronger.

Sometimes a registered dietitian, or nutritionist, is part of the team of health professionals that help with cancer treatment and recovery.  A dietitian will work with patients, their families, and the rest of the medical team to manage the patient’s diet during and after cancer treatment.  Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients keep a healthy body weight, maintain strength, keep body tissue healthy, and decrease side effects both during and after treatment.

For many patients, the effects of cancer and cancer treatments make it hard to eat well.  Cancer treatments that affect nutrition include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplant.  When the head, neck, esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, or liver are affected by the cancer treatment, it is hard to take in enough nutrients to stay healthy.  Cancer and cancer treatments may affect taste, smell, appetite, and the ability to eat enough food or absorb the nutrients from food.  This can cause malnutrition, which is a condition caused by a lack of key nutrients.

Cancer and cancer treatment can change your body’s nutritional needs.  Even if you ate well before, it is a good idea to ask your team about healthy eating during treatment to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need to help your body handle the rigors of treatment and heal faster.  Ask your healthcare team for eating advice specific to your situation and follow these general guidelines:

– Eat vegetables and fruits, if possible at least five servings/day

– Eat dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables such broccoli, spinach and kale daily

– Limit your intake of red meat, sugar and high-fat foods

– Eat whole grains and legumes such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and beans

– Avoid alcohol

– Limit the amount of salt-cured, smoked and pickled foods

– Drink fluids to stay hydrated

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