Nutrition and Cancer
Nutrition is an important piece of cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship. Eating well can help your immune system to function and help you maintain your energy and strength.
Dietitians are an essential addition to your cancer care team. Registered dietitians are available to answer your questions about nutrition and to help you eat well before, during and after your cancer treatment.
What do dietitians do?
Our Cancer Agency dietitians:
- Explain the science behind how food impacts our health
- Create personalized nutrition care plans to support patients through their cancer care
- Help patients and families make the nutrition changes that work best for them
- Support patients’ quality of life through food and eating
Advice on eating well during treatment
Healthy eating during cancer treatment can look different for each person, depending on the type of cancer, treatment plan, and of course, your unique preferences and personal situations. One main goal of eating well during treatment is to give your body the nutrients it needs to keep your weight stable, support your immune system, and avoid other health complications.
When you are feeling well
Focus on eating a balanced diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that you:
- Include plenty of plant foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and pulses (beans, lentils, and chickpeas). Fill 2/3 of your plate with these plant foods, when you are feeling well
-Aim to stay hydrated with water. Limit alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages like pop, iced tea, lemonade, etc.
-Limit ‘fast foods’ or highly processed foods that are high in added sugar, salt and saturated or trans fat
You may have heard that certain foods fight cancer, or certain foods cause cancer to grow. For more information on this, visit: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/health-info/coping-with-cancer/nutrition-support#Common--questions
Don’t forget about food safety: during cancer treatment, your immune system may be weak, and it can be easier for you to get sick from the foods you eat. It is important to practice safe food handling to avoid getting food poisoning. Visit this site to learn more: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-safety-vulnerable-populations/food-safety-people-with-weakened-immune-system.html
When you are feeling unwell
You may have a hard time eating enough or staying hydrated. This can make it difficult to continue with your treatment plan and can put you at risk for more health complications. You may need to change your eating habits, even for a short amount of time, to be sure you can stay nourished.
It is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially if you are vomiting or having diarrhea. Aim for at least 1.5-2L (6-8 cups) of fluids each day. This can include items like water, milk or milk alternatives, soups or broths, juice, or tea.
If you’ve tried the ideas in these tip sheets, and are still eating less than usual or losing weight, talk to your cancer care team. A dietitian can help you with tailored ideas to help manage your nutrition-related side effects and symptoms.
Malnutrition is when someone can’t eat enough food or when their body can’t absorb enough nutrients. If you have cancer, you are at a higher risk for becoming malnourished, and this can happen even if you are at a higher body weight. Nearly half of cancer patients experience malnutrition at some point during their cancer care? (Dietitians of Canada, 2018).
Dietitians in cancer care often focus on ways to help people with malnutrition. Ask yourself these two questions to see if you could benefit from a visit with a dietitian:
- Have you lost weight in the past six months without trying?
- Have you been eating less than usual for more than one week?
If you answered yes to both of these questions, ask to speak with a registered dietitian at the cancer centre. They can meet with you over the phone, through telehealth, or in person.
Allan Blair Cancer Centre: 306-766-2956
Saskatoon Cancer Centre: 306-655-0657
More information and resources are available here.