Food and beverage intake, as well as weight status, can integrate with cancer treatment to mitigate treatment-related toxicities, support treatment success, and prevent a recurrence. Despite great advances in treatment, cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide. Diet can greatly impact health, while caloric restriction and fasting have putative benefits for disease prevention and longevity. Cancer treatment also influenced the types of foods that patients were consuming. Patients had a wide range of food preferences and aversions. The top five preferred foods were fruits and vegetables, soup, poultry and fish. Adequate protein intake is essential during all stages of cancer treatment, recovery, and long-term survival. Choosing protein foods that also are low in saturated fat (lean meat and poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes) reduces calories and provides cardio-protective benefits. While the potential benefit of a low-fat diet is still controversial. Diets high in fat are typically high in calories, making weight control more difficult. Healthy (but not low-calorie) fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (from plants and oils), while intake of saturated fats (from animal sources or solid fats) should be limited, and trans fats (formed while processing fats) should be minimized as much as possible. Recommendations that pertain to the avoidance of red and processed meats and to the reduction of salty foods are based primarily on the prevention of select cancers (e.g., colorectal and aero-digestive cancers). The ACS recommends limiting alcohol intake to less than two drinks per day for men and less than one drink/day for women.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in protective elements like dithiolethiones, isothiocyanates, indole-32-carbinol, allium compounds, isoflavones, protease inhibitors, saponins, phytosterols, inositol hexaphosphate, vitamin C, D-limonene, lutein, folic acid, beta carotene (and other carotenoids), lycopene, selenium, vitamin E, flavonoids, and dietary fibre.
Allium vegetables (garlic, onion, leeks, and scallions) are particularly potent and have separately been found to be protective against stomach and colorectal cancers and prostate cancer.
A joint report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research found convincing evidence that a high fruit and vegetable diet would reduce cancers of the mouth and pharynx, oesophagus, lung, stomach, colon and rectum; evidence of probable risk reduction was found for cancers of the larynx, pancreas, breast, and bladder.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) contain sulforaphane, which has anti-cancer properties.
All green plants also contain chlorophyll, the light-collecting molecule. Chlorophyll and its derivatives are very effective at binding polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carcinogens largely from incomplete combustion of fuels), heterocyclic amines (generated when grilling foods), aflatoxin (a toxin from moulds in foods which causes liver cancer), and other hydrophobic molecules. The chlorophyll-carcinogen complex is much harder for the body to absorb, so most of it is swept out with the faeces. This contributes to its anti-cancer properties.
The bacteria that reside in the intestinal tract generally have a symbiotic relationship with their host. Beneficial bacteria produce natural antibiotics to keep pathogenic bugs in check (preventing diarrhoea and infections) and produce some B vitamins in the small intestine where they can be utilized. Beneficial bacteria help with food digestion by providing extra enzymes, such as lactase, in the small intestine. Beneficial bacteria help strengthen the immune system right in the gut where much of the interaction between the outside world and the body goes on. Beneficial bacteria can help prevent food allergies. They can help prevent cancer at various stages of development. These good bacteria can improve mineral absorption, maximizing food utilization. The use of probiotics has a beneficial effect on the human gut microbiome. Their main advantage is the effect on the development of the microbiota inhabiting the organism in the way ensuring a proper balance between the bacteria that are necessary for the normal function of the organism and pathogens. Beneficial functions of probiotics lead to the restoration (in case of disturbance) and maintenance of intestinal homeostasis.
The imbalance of the digestive system may be pro-inflammatory immune responses and initiate disease processes, including cancer. Intestinal dysbiosis may be the reason for the tumorigenesis of both local gastrointestinal cancers and tumours localized in distant sites of the body.
Common probiotics include yoghurt, and fermented vegetables like cabbage, sauerkraut, kimchi, idli, dosa, tofu, etc.
Since cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation cause the destruction of bone marrow, the body produces fewer RBCs. Sometimes, if the gut is affected because of the radiation or the drugs, then iron, folate and vitamin B12 absorption is also hampered.
Some iron-rich food items include:
- Garden cress seeds
- Drumstick leaves
- Turmeric powder
- Dark green vegetables like spinach
- Cauliflower greens
- Flat rice (poha)
Some foods rich in Vitamin B12 are:
- Milk and milk products like yoghurt and cheeses are the best sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians.
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Some foods rich in folate:
- Chickpeas and kidney beans
- Cruciferous vegetables
High Protein Food
Cancer treatment methods like radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs cause damage to body tissues and immune cells since this has to be regained sooner to fight side effects caused by them. Hence foods high in protein to overcome their protein-deficient rather than their medications of their foods including meat, fish, eggs, beans, peas, sprouted cereals, milk and milk products, soy products are preferred over other foods.
During treatment, patients may face several side effects. Since calorie is more essential for patients to gain strength. Some foods that are rich in calories include cereals, millets, potatoes, soups, bread, butter, rice, wheat, soy milk, soya chunks and fruit juices are preferred.
Foods to avoid
Since there are foods that need to be avoided during treatment which includes highly processed foods, overcooked foods, grilled foods, and fried foods. These foods should not be taken frequently since proper choice for food is essential, like fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and green leafy vegetables.
A proper nutrition can also help to prevent the breakdown of body tissue and promote the growth of new tissue. You may also be able to tolerate higher doses of some drugs. Indeed, several cancer treatments are more effective in patients who follow a prescribed diet, eat with a structured plan everyday and consume enough calories.
QUA Nutrition Clinics’ nutritionists will assist you in maintaining a balanced diet before, during and after your cancer treatment. They’ve had specialised training in nutrition and oncology, and their recommendations are based on scientifically based nutrition research.
- Barrera, S., & Demark-Wahnefried, W. (2009). Nutrition during and after cancer therapy. Oncology (Williston Park, N.Y.), 23(2 Suppl Nurse Ed), 15–21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2770876/
- Mittelman SD. The Role of Diet in Cancer Prevention and Chemotherapy Efficacy. Annu Rev Nutr. 2020 Sep 23;40:273-297. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-013120-041149. Epub 2020 Jun 16. PMID: 32543948; PMCID: PMC8546934. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32543948/
- Coa, K. I., Epstein, J. B., Ettinger, D., Jatoi, A., McManus, K., Platek, M. E., Price, W., Stewart, M., Teknos, T. N., & Moskowitz, B. (2015). The impact of cancer treatment on the diets and food preferences of patients receiving outpatient treatment. Nutrition and cancer, 67(2), 339–353. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635581.2015.990577
- Donaldson M. S. (2004). Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition journal, 3, 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-3-19
- Śliżewska, K., Markowiak-Kopeć, P., & Śliżewska, W. (2020). The Role of Probiotics in Cancer Prevention. Cancers, 13(1), 20. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers13010020