I know that living with a cancer diagnosis can bring fear and struggle. On my summer blog we’re bringing positive solutions, advice and support to the many women who visit these pages. Today’s blog is part 1 of my Q&A from Registered Dietitian Emma Carder BSc (HONS) RNutr MBDA. Part 2 will be on the blog next month.
How important do you think nutrition is in helping to fight diseases such as cancer?
The relationship between our diet and cancer risk is incredibly complex and through research we are learning all the time. It is however estimated that one third of all cancers in the UK could be prevented by making simple changes to our eating habits and physical activity levels
In 2007 The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) published its second comprehensive expert report; Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. The WCRF- UK has since grouped the report’s recommendations into 3 realistic guidelines. It encourages us to think about these and eventually adopt them as principles to guide our lifestyle choices.
Choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat
We should aim to base our meal choices around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses such as beans & lentils. These provide us with fibre and other essential nutrients, which can help to reduce our cancer risk. Aim for a minimum of 5 portions of fruit & vegetables and 3 servings of wholegrain cereals everyday e.g. wholemeal bread, pasta & rice, oats, quinoa etc…
Be physically active every day in any way for 30 minutes or more
There is strong evidence that physical activity can help reduce our cancer risk. Being active also helps to keep our weight under control. Dancing, gardening, walking, playing with the kids, cleaning the house are all physical activities and the more activity you do the better!
Aim to be a healthy weight throughout life
This one of the most important steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk. If you are keen to know how your weight shapes up you can calculate your Body Mass Index with this handy calculator from WCRF-UK
Do you recommend any specific foods for someone diagnosed with cancer?
Cancer itself or its treatments can cause changes to your eating habit and lead to weight loss. If you have always been careful to make healthy food and drink choices or if you have previously tried to lose weight it can be difficult to suddenly have to eat foods that you would normally think of as being unhealthy choices.
There is also a lot of conflicting advice around about what to eat, you may have heard about alternative diets that advise people with cancer not to eat meat or dairy produce or suggest drinking large amounts of fruit or vegetable juice. At the moment there is little scientific evidence that any these diets can be of benefit. Their real effect remains uncertain and some diets may lead to further harmful weight loss. You may decide though that you do wish to try an alternative diet and my advice would be to always talk this through with your doctor, nurse or dietitian.
Rather than eating any specific foods, the recommended advice is to aim for a nourishing well – balanced diet. This will help you to:
- Be able to cope with any treatment side effects
- Handle the most beneficial dose of certain treatments
- Recover and heal faster from any surgery
- Keep your immune system working well
- Feel stronger and have more energy
A balanced diet includes everyday foods from each of the 5 food groups:
Breads, crackers, pittas, wraps, oat cakes, rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rolled oats all provide you with energy. Try and include a small serving at each meal or snack to keep your energy levels up.
Vitamins, minerals and fibre
Fresh, tinned, frozen, dried and the juices of fruit & vegetables are all good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. If your appetite is poor it is still important to include some fruit and vegetables with your meals and snacks.
Meat, fish (white & oily), eggs, beans & pulses such as dhal & hummus, nuts & seeds, quorn or tofu all provide essential protein. You need protein foods to help keep your strength up. Aim to include these foods at least twice a day in your meals & snacks.
Milk, cheese, yoghurts & milky products made from them provide you with protein, vitamins and minerals. Full fat dairy products are also a good source of energy if you are trying to keep your weight up. Aim to include two – three dairy foods per day e.g. cheese and crackers, a thick and creamy yoghurt and full cream milk or enriched milk in your drinks, soups, sauces, milky puddings and on cereals throughout the day.
Fats & Sugars
Butter, margarine, cream, vegetable oils, ghee, salad dressing and mayonnaise, sugar, honey, syrup and foods that include these such as plain or chocolate biscuits, cakes, sweets etc… all provide you with energy and can easily be added to your meals and snacks to help boost the calories & help maintain your weight and energy levels.
If someone is very underweight through their illness or treatment, how can we encourage them to eat and what sort of quantities and types of food are best?
Not managing to eat enough protein and calories is one of the main problems faced by people with cancer. High fat and sugary foods are great choices to help maintain your weight and energy levels.
If you are losing weight and eating less it is really important to discuss this with your doctor and nurse as dietary advice could make a big difference. They will be able to advise you and refer you to a dietitian for advice.
Tips to help you manage a nourishing diet
- Try 3 small meals and 3 small snacks a day. Think “little & often” !
- Serve your meals and snacks on a smaller plate so they look more manageable.
- Have your main meal at the time of day you feel most well.
- Drink along with or after your meal. Drinking before meals can fill you up.
- Try to have a pudding once or twice a day, e.g. thick and creamy yoghurts, tinned rice pudding, sponge pudding and custard, trifle, mousse, fruit pie, crumbles, homemade ice lolly or milkshake style drink, jelly & ice cream.
- Add extra fat & sugar to your meals and snacks e.g. butter, oil, dressings, cream, grated cheese to potatoes, salads, vegetables and eggs & sugar, honey or syrup to breakfast cereals & puddings.
- Try enriched milk. Simply measure out 1 pint of milk and whisk in 4 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder. Keep in your fridge and aim to use throughout the day in your breakfast cereals, sauces, tea, coffee, soups, milky puddings, mashed potato etc…
Absolutely brilliant Emma! These are all questions I’ve been asked to answer or personally wanted answered. I know we’ll look forward to more from you in August.
Do you have a question you’d like answering?