Nutrition is one of the keys for cancer treatment. People may think it is complicated however it is actually not. Eating a variety of well-balanced diet is the good nutrition you need if you have cancer.
Your body needs enough calories and protein during the treatment. However, depending on the side effects you may experience due to the treatment or induced by your cancer site, you may find this is challenging to eat enough.
It is not difficult to prepare a balanced diet. You can refer to Malaysian Healthy Plate Model “QuarterQuarterHalf” which visualized the balanced diet. Make sure each of your main meal should include one-quarter of carbohydrate, one quarter of protein and half for fruits and vegetables. To get enough calories intake, make sure you have three main meals with few snacking time throughout the day. Choices of food shall be lean proteins, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. You need to limit sugar, caffeine, salt and alcohol too. Eat with your family, enjoy a variety of food cooked with a variety of recipes.
Protein is very important during cancer treatment. High-protein foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt. General suggestions are to include 1 serving of proteins each main meal and snack on nourishing fluid with high protein sources such as dairy and soya milk. However, the actual requirement for each patient may vary, you can talk to your dietitian for medical nutrition therapy.
If your appetite persistently suppressed, you may need meal replacement beverages also known as oral nutrition supplement. These are commonly available in the market used to improve the adequacy of nutrient intake. Small and frequent meals are also tips to manage low appetite. You may need a dietitian for a nutrition prescription.
You may need to avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish, and poultry. If your cancer suppressing your immune system, you may even need to avoid raw vegetables. Don’t drink dairy or other beverages that are unpasteurized. Drink clean filtered water. This is to prevent foodborne infection. You are advised to avoid those known carcinogenic food and beverages such as processed meats, crispy and burnt food and alcohol.
Omega 3 fatty acid supplementations particularly Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) has been studied and found to favor weight and appetite gain, reduce inflammatory responses and improve patient’s quality of life. A total of 2g EPA per day is recommended. Commercially available EPA enriched nutritional supplements are available. You may talk to your dietitian to get further advice on this as this supplementation shall be in complement with balanced nutrition.
A vegetarian diet may be a healthier alternative to Western diets in general, but there is no clear evidence that a vegetarian diet is more protective against cancer than a mostly plant-based diet containing small amounts of lower fat meat and dairy foods. A vegetarian meal plan should include a variety of foods, including many different colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein alternatives to meat (such as beans, eggs, tofu, fish, or small amounts of reduced-fat cheeses).
In short, there is no special diet with sufficient evidence base proven to improve prognosis. Instead, the key is to have adequate balance nutrition and manage the side effects which affect the intake.
“No special diet, cancer diet is to have a variety and adequate of well-balanced nutrition.”
Jin Yee Fung, Bachelor of Dietetics (Hons.) (UniSZA)
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Curious about diets that are claimed to be able to cure cancer?
1) MNT Guidelines – Cancer, 2010
2) ESPEN guidelines on nutrition in cancer patients, 2017
3) Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/