Eating well can help you feel better and stay stronger during and after cancer treatment. Patients who eat well and maintain a healthy body weight often tolerate treatment side effects better. And good nutrition also helps the body replace blood cells and tissues broken down by treatment.
A healthy lifestyle plays a key role in keeping the body strong, supporting the immune system (the cells and proteins that defend the body against infection) and reducing risk for some diseases, such as certain kinds of heart disease and some cancers. Most nutritionists agree that eating a variety of foods is the best method to ensure intake of all the nutrients the body requires.
A healthy diet for everyone, including cancer survivors, incudes:
- Variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fat free or low fat dairy
- Low fat proteins such as poultry or lean meat
- Healthy oils like olive oil
A healthy diet also limits saturated fats and trans fats (e.g. butter) to less than 10% of all calories consumed each day. Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. Consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium (salt) per day.
Drink water, tea and coffee to maintain hydration. Consider decaffeinated beverages if you experience diarrhea or reflux as caffeine can make these symptoms worse. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda.
Discuss drinking alcohol with your doctor. If you do drink, do so in moderation. Limit alcohol to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
Good nutrition should be part of a healthy lifestyle that also includes:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Drinking enough fluid
- Relaxing (managing stress)
- Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours per night for adults)
- Not using tobacco or abusing drugs or alcohol
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can reduce anxiety, fatigue and improve heart function and mental well-being. Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Gradually increasing your exercise levels, through low risk activities like short daily walks, can be the best method to start an exercise program.
Foods cannot be used to treat cancer, but some things you eat or drink and some actions you avoid can make a difference in your health and how you feel.
Evaluating Nutrition and Supplement Information
Nutrition and cancer research is still in its early stages, therefore you may find it difficult to sort out dependable, science-based advice from misinformation and myth. Before you try any supplement or herb on your own, talk with your doctor about the risk of it interfering with your cancer treatment. For example:
- St. John's wort, an herbal product used to treat depression, reduces the effectiveness of imatinib (Gleevec®), a drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia and Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Talk with your doctor about safe treatment options for depression.
- Green tea supplements can interfere with the effectiveness of bortezomib (Velcade®).
Get a Free One-On-One Consultation
Patients and caregivers may receive free one-on-one phone and email consultations with a nutrition educator. Contact an Information Specialist for this free service or watch this video for more information:
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free fact sheet, Food and Nutrition Facts.