When it comes to conquering cancer, we all know how important it is to get the very best medical treatment possible. But most of us are far less aware of other things that can help us on the road to recovery, such as resources and practices that are complementary to excellent medical care.

Here at Gilda’s Desert Cities, for example, we understand the importance of emotional and educational support, since that is the core service we have provided at no cost to those affected by cancer in the Coachella Valley for 12 years, and we are also well aware of the role that exercise and nutrition play during and after cancer treatment.

To address the need for reliable nutrition information, and to provide hands-on experience in cooking and eating well, Gilda’s launched a six-session series this year called Eating for Wellness: Nutrition for Living with Cancer and Beyond. Open to the public, the class is being led by Tiffany Dalton, CNC, an AADP board-certified holistic health practitioner. Food demonstrations are being provided by nutritional health and wellness coach Dipika Patel.

Here are some of the questions that Dalton is addressing:

Please note: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.

What is the best overall strategy?

Because the human body is composed of many intricate systems that work together, and foods contain perhaps thousands of components that interact with our complex bodies, the most healthful strategy will always be one that addresses the overall diet, not single foods or dietary supplements.

How does diet affect cancer?

Many factors influence the development of cancer. Over the last 25 years, science has shown that diet, physical activity, and body weight—especially being overweight or obese—are major risk factors for developing certain types of cancer. Food should be viewed not just as an energy source, but as an instruction manual. Each bite we take literally contains information—good or bad—transmitted to our cells and genes, making each meal important to health and disease.

Are there foods that specifically help with cancer?

Researchers have known for some time that eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, along with high quality protein and fats can help to defend the body against cancer and other diseases. These whole foods provide vitamins, minerals, and protective and naturally-occurring plant substances known as phytochemicals. Of course, each whole food has inherent special qualities, but the focus should be on the quality of the source, and the preparation of the food. Over-processed and hormone-laden lunch meats, for example, are not ideal sources of protein.

Nutrition is an important part of repair, recovery and healing when treating cancer.

Nutrition is an important part of repair, recovery and healing when treating cancer.

What should I avoid eating?

With the tricky labeling and deceptive marketing here in the U.S., it’s likely more helpful to know what to avoid eating. Simply put, most things found in bags and boxes with long, unpronounceable ingredients on the label should not be on your everyday grocery list. Stick to real, whole foods with minimal processing.

What are strategies to manage common side effects?

For nausea: Eat small amounts of food more often, as small portions of meals and snacks are often easier to tolerate. Eating foods and sipping on clear liquids at room temperature or cooler may be easier to tolerate. Natural supplements such as ginger and peppermint can be helpful.

For unwanted weight loss: Start with high-protein foods while your appetite is strongest. Keep favorite healthy, high-calorie foods and beverages within easy reach. Try to be as physically active as you are able to be to help stimulate your appetite.

For fatigue: Prepare food when you feel your best and freeze leftovers in meal-size portions. Try to drink plenty of fluids; being dehydrated can make fatigue worse.

Dalton summarizes, “Cancer treatment can place a lot of nutritional demand on your body. It is important to try to consistently consume a healthy diet and to drink nourishing beverages. The main nutritional goals during this time are to maintain a healthy weight and eat healthy foods that supply your body with calories and nutrients for energy, repair, recovery, and healing.”

Or, as Desert Regional Comprehensive Cancer Center dietician Nicole Verner, RD, puts it,

“Having regular meals will achieve the most nutritious diet whether going through cancer treatment, recovering from surgery, or trying to reduce your risk for cancer. Good nutrition is not about what you can’t eat, it’s about expanding the possibilities and incorporating more variety. Eating this way is not just nutritious, but more importantly, a more enjoyable way to eat.”

April Hanig, MFTI, is Program Manager at Gilda’s Desert Cities, an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, www.gildasclubdesertcities.org. She can be reached at
(760)770.5678 or [email protected]

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