The Importance of Nutrition When Battling Cancer

Our bodies are powered by what we consume, and while maintaining a balanced nutritious diet should always be a top priority, it is paramount for those who are battling a disease such as cancer. When your body is fighting cancer cells and going through exhaustive rounds of treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, fatigue and lack of appetite are typical side effects that can leave a patient feeling depleted. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer can seriously affect what foods your body will tolerate. Developing a diet that provides you with the necessary nutrients without triggering illness symptoms is a fundamental part to
any successful remission.

Different Types of Nutrients
Nutrients are a variety of compounds derived both organically and inorganically that enable the ability for your body to grow, repair, and function. Examples of organic nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins, as opposed to compounds such as zinc and iron which are inorganic.

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are considered macronutrients, and make up the majority of your diet. Carbohydrates play a significant role in your overall energy production. As carbohydrates go through the digestion process, they turn into glucose, a simple sugar that provides your body with energy. Whole grain breads as well as oranges and broccoli are excellent sources of carbs that will provide you with lasting energy.

Healthy fats provide your body a way to store energy and are vital to absorbing certain vitamins and antioxidants. Healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce symptoms of inflammation and improve brain and heart function. Avocados, fish, and extra virgin olive oil are great examples of rich fat that provides the body with proper nutrients.

Proteins are what enable your body to build and repair muscle and tissue. They are virtually part of every cell in your body and play a key role in maintaining or regulating body weight. Proteins also help you fight infections and strengthen your immune system.

It is important to note that you also need micronutrients as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), micronutrients are only necessary in small doses, but still play a part in disease prevention and organ function. Micronutrients are often categorized as vitamins and minerals such as the previously mentioned zinc and iron. Iron aids in our cognitive
development while zinc promotes immunity and infection resistance. Some other notable micronutrients would be vitamin A and vitamin C which improve eyesight and skin health respectively.

Understanding Your Diet As A Cancer Patient

It is important to consult your oncologist about what kind of diet regimen you should follow. A registered dietician will work with your oncologist to create a plan to ensure you are consuming nutrient dense foods that will aid your body in healing. While nutrients are vital to your overall health, the way in which these nutrients are consumed varies from patient to patient. Someone who is going through treatment for stage II chronic leukemia will most likely have a different diet plan than someone who has a further advanced cancer such as late-stage mesothelioma.

The reason why the diets vary between these two is due to the type of cancer,
the stage at which it has progressed, and the treatment that will be involved. Someone suffering from mesothelioma may go through very invasive surgeries that will leave them fatigued, thus needing more glucose for energy. For someone with leukemia, a chemotherapy treatment may leave them empty of necessary proteins, which will lead to a higher intake of protein to fight
infection and promote the healing of tissues. Regardless of what diet plan you are recommended during your path to remission, keeping up with your nutrients and calorie intake is of the utmost importance. Treatments may leave you feeling exhausted, nauseous, and with little appetite, but by consuming what is necessary, you will be setting your body up for recovery.

Pace Yourself

During treatment, some days will be harder than others. It is okay to rest when you are overwhelmingly tired. Take small steps towards your diet plan until you figure out what works for your body. There will be trial and error as far as what foods work for you, but once you establish a plan, moving forward will be easier day by day.

World Cancer Day

February 4th we recognize those who are currently battling cancer and the loved ones we have lost. It is also a day to highlight advancements being made in oncology research and treatment development. For those who are battling cancer, continue to fight and maintain a healthy diet, remission is on the way!


Image credit: pixabay

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