Many female cancer patients face several changes during treatment. For some, it could be drastic weight loss or reduced bodily strength to continue certain activities. For others, it could be weight gain and low immunity. Cancer and cancer treatments can also affect the patients’ energy levels and vitality, making them weaker than they used to be. While these changes are common during treatment, they can be incredibly demoralizing and make the journey even harder for patients. Thankfully, proper nutrition supports their bodies during these changes, making treatment much more bearable.
Food and cancer
The great Greek physician Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” While drugs and therapies take up a considerable chunk of the attention during cancer treatment, your diet is still a fantastic way to enhance your health and boost your immunity.
Proper nutrition supplies your body with almost everything you need to stay healthy enough for treatment, from proteins to minerals and vitamins. And if you’re seeking nutritional support, here are a few ways your food can help you during cancer.
Eat the rainbow
During cancer treatment, your body goes through a lot of stress fighting the disease, so it needs all the nutrients it can get. Like the rainbow’s numerous colors, your food can be just as colorful with lots of nutrients like proteins, healthy fats, and, of course, antioxidants.
- Proteins: Think back to your time in health education class. Remember being told how proteins are the building blocks of the body? Well, that also applies to cancer treatment. Proteins are necessary for rebuilding your tissues and cells after treatment sessions. They also help maintain your body mass and keep your energy levels high by providing energy.
To incorporate proteins into your diet, eat foods like eggs, fish, legumes, poultry, and low-fat dairy products. You can also mix these up with fruits for a healthy salad.
- Fats: Fats might have a bad and mostly misunderstood reputation, but good fats exist, too. These good, healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are great for your heart, your energy levels and can help boost your immunity. You can find healthy fats in foods like olive oil, sunflower oil, and fish rich in omega fatty acids.
However, unhealthy fats also exist and are the main reason for fats’ bad reputation. These unhealthy or saturated fats are common in processed foods, deep-fried pastries, and some dairy products. And while these fats provide short-term gratification, they can worsen your health in the long term. So go easy on the deep-fried treats and eat foods with healthier fatty acids.
- Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins and minerals have many functions in your internal system. While some, like vitamins A and C, act as antioxidants and mop up harmful free radicals from your body, others, like zinc and selenium, are necessary for your enzymes to function. These vitamins and minerals are essential for women with cancer as they help clear up the harmful side effects of the cancer treatment on your body and keep your energy levels up.
You can get enough minerals and vitamins from fruits, green leafy vegetables, certain kinds of seafood, and legumes and nuts.
- Carbohydrates: It would help if you had carbohydrates in your diet to maintain your energy levels and keep your body strong enough for treatment. Carb-rich foods like sweet potatoes, rice, and corn are great options, while processed carbs like fried goods, packaged snacks, and sugar-rich desserts are a no-no. The fiber in these carb-rich foods can also help with radiotherapy side effects like diarrhea and bowel obstructions or compaction.
- Water: Water is essential in your diet as it is vital to every process in your body. And yes, those processes include maintaining your energy levels and boosting your immunity. So aim for at least 2 liters of water daily to stay hydrated.
- Supplements: Dietary supplements are nutrient-rich drugs in tablet form, as pills, or even gummy bears. Like their name, they supply extra nutrients to support your nutritional needs. They, however, are not made to replace proper meal-based nutrition.
For women with cancer, supplements can be tricky to use as you need just enough nutrients without burdening your body with excess. To avoid this, you’ll need to speak with your dietitian and oncologist to know if you need supplements and how you should take them.
Talk to a dietitian
When it comes to food and nutrition during cancer, a dietitian is your best bet for doing things right. Eating healthy is one thing, but you must also eat according to your body’s needs. For instance, different cancers affect women differently. While some face drastic weight loss, others could face weight gain and fluid buildup due to steroidal use. A dietitian will ask about pre-existing health conditions, your physical state, and even your preferences and can tailor your diet according to your changing body and needs while maintaining your energy levels and immunity.