Cancer patients must eat a balanced diet packed with nutrients that can help them stay strong and energetic.
It’s not always an easy task, as cancer medications can cause nausea while radiation treatment can make the mouth sore, affect the taste buds and lead to a loss of appetite.
Experts at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group, advise patients to eat the right foods before, during and after treatment. A nutritious diet can help patients maintain a healthy body weight and stamina levels, better tolerate the side-effects of treatment and also recover faster.“It is important for someone undergoing cancer therapy to eat well to maintain a good blood profile, which includes platelets, neutrophils and albumin, in order to receive therapy with minimal breaks,” stresses Ms Chang Yok Ying, Principal Pharmacist, Outpatient Pharmacy, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group.
Since cancer treatments often cause side-effects like nausea and taste changes leading to a loss of appetite, it is important that patients don’t have too many dietary restrictions imposed on them.
“The strategy is to serve them their favorite foods without too much fuss on the finer aspects of a healthy diet. Yet, it is preferable to avoid excessive intake of salt, sugar and oil,” Ms Chang explains.
A good diet for a cancer patient contains a mix of vegetables and meat, and avoids extremely sweet and oily foods. Preferred cooking methods are steaming, boiling, and stir-frying rather than deep frying, grilling, barbecuing and baking.A balanced diet should provide the body with proteins (to build tissues, prevent infection, heal wounds and maintain a healthy immune system), carbohydrates and fats (energy sources), vitamins and minerals (for proper growth, body functioning) and, most importantly, plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.
Foods to include in your diet as a cancer patient:
- Tomatoes, carrots, peas, pumpkin and turnips for vitamins and fiber
- Tomatoes, tomato puree and parsley (especially good for prostate cancer patients)
- Calciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage contain plant chemicals that can convert bad estrogen into good estrogen, and hence reduce cancer risk as well as the risk of a relapse
- Asparagus and Brussel sprouts for their rich antioxidants
- Bitter gourd for lowering blood sugar levels
- Green leafy vegetables for calcium and iron
- Oranges provide vitamin C
- Bananas, kiwi, peaches, mangoes, pears and strawberries for vitamins and fiber
- Avocados, guava, apricots, figs, prunes and raisins for energy
- Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tauhu and taukwa
- Dairy products, nuts, dried beans, dhals and chickpeas
- Fish and soy foods (especially good for prostate cancer patients)
- Rice, noodles, chapatti, wholegrain bread and pasta
- Wholegrain crackers, oats, corn, potatoes, beans and dairy products
- Honey, consumed in moderation for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties which may help in preventing infections
Foods to avoid as a cancer patient
- Deep fried, grilled, barbecued, baked meats since subjecting animal protein to high heat creates carcinogenic byproducts called heterocyclic amines
- Excessive intake of salt, sugar, and oily foods
- Red meat and processed meats such as bacon, ham, sausages
- Preserved foods like pickles, jams, kiam chye (salted mustard green), and century eggs as they contain nitrites which are carcinogenic
- Minimize alcohol
Additionally, cancer patients should avoid excessive intake of vitamin supplements, as they act as antioxidants and can interfere with chemotherapy when taken in large doses.
Other diet tips for cancer patients
A healthy diet is even more important for cancer patients, so it is important to eat well even if you don’t always feel like it.
Be open to trying new foods. There may be a silver lining: Due to taste changes, foods you never liked before may taste good during treatment!