Why Nutrition Matters When You Have Cancer
A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. A health care team may provide a variety of treatment options, but it is up to the patient to prioritize and focus daily on their nutrition, which is the foundation of health. Malnutrition (lacking adequate nutrients) is a serious side effect of cancer and cancer treatments. In fact, at least half of cancer patients suffer from malnutrition at time of diagnosis and 20% of cancer-related deaths are due to malnutrition and not the cancer itself. Eating well prior to, and during cancer can result in significantly better survival rates and improved quality of life throughout the cancer continuum. Our biggest challenge as a nation is to get educated on using diet and lifestyle changes as a first line of defense for cancer prevention and for cancer survival.
A dietary approach for cancer patients may require specific adjustments, depending on the type of treatment and side effects. The anti-cancer diet philosophy is the same for everyone: a low glycemic diet centered around more vegetables than fruit, with adequate protein and high-quality fats. Fresh fruits and vegetables offer an abundance of fiber, vitamins and essential minerals, lowering risk of disease and reducing the likelihood of malnutrition.
Maintaining weight is key to cancer survival and correlated to improved quality of life during cancer treatments as well. A 2015 study by Martin and colleagues, published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, identified that weight-stable cancer patients, even if overweight, survived 5 times longer than patients who lost 15% of their bodyweight. Weight loss in a cancer patient is a red flag that there is likely a risk of muscle loss and lack of nutrients; therefore, cancer patients need to be vigilant and actively participate in dietary interventions.
Common yet misguided advice to a cancer patient is, “Eat whatever you want.” We have known for centuries how connected our body is to what we feed it. Oncology nutrition research continues to confirm what Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, already knew. His wise words were, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Food is a powerful tool and is underutilized in our medical system today.
The “perfect” diet may not exist, but there are certain qualities of the diet that make the difference in health and survival. When cancer was rare, we were consuming traditional diets filled with a variety of seasonal, organically grown vegetables, herbs, some fruits, and some animals. They did not include modern offenders such as preservatives, pesticides, chemicals, processed sugars or inflammatory fats which have led us to today’s epidemic of being overfed, yet under-nourished. Real, whole foods provide substantial benefits to the body as they contain healing compounds called phytochemicals. Science continues to prove that a diet loaded with these powerful plant treasures can potentially prevent, or even stop, cancer in its tracks. If we can treat the grocery store as our pharmacy, undoubtedly, we would see dramatic decline in all disease and better outcomes from cancer treatments.
Tiffany is a certified nutrition consultant and functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and can be reached at (760) 285.1221. For more information visit www.tiffanydalton.com.