Eating well and getting the proper nutrition can be vital during the battle against cancer. Healthy eating is always important, but even more so when a body develops cancer and experiences all of the related treatments including chemotherapy.
With the added mental and physical burdens of treatment, getting the right nutrition can feel almost impossible for patients and their families. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll explain why nutrition is so important for cancer patients, and ways to make getting the right food easier.
Why Eating Right Matters
Getting the right food is vital to improving health and quality of life. Despite what you might read online, there are no “miracle foods” that will cure or prevent cancer. While some foods do have links to lowering the risk of cancer and its symptoms, they cannot eliminate cancer in the body. What the right foods can do is provide a wide array of benefits during the fight against cancer.
Recovery: Our body needs vitamins, electrolytes, and energy for the functions of different organs. Chemotherapy, radiation, and cancer itself cause a large amount of stress on the body and the systems within it. It’s important to make sure you provide your body with the necessary fuel to recover from that stress.
Combat Weight Loss: Cancer is often associated with severe weight loss, this is due to the cancer itself plus the loss of appetite that often accompanies treatment. Weight Loss is a sign that your body doesn’t have an adequate supply of nutrition, so it’s important to monitor this.
Avoiding Further Illness: A body weakened by cancer is even more susceptible to other diseases. Cancer patients are often vulnerable to infections and healthy eating can help your body build up its immune system.
Feeling Better: Good food can have a wondrous effect on improving mood. Many cancer patients become frustrated by the idea that nausea will prevent them from eating foods that they enjoy. Building a meal plan that includes foods with nutritious and tasty foods, cancer patients can regain a sense of normalcy.
Healthy Eating for Cancer Patients
So what kinds of food for cancer patients can fulfill these goals - boosting the immune system, giving the right nutrients, and helping with recovery? There are many kinds of healthy food for cancer patients, but what kinds you should be eating depend on your goals and what you feel you can stomach on any given day.
Please note: We make a few nutritional recommendations below, but please make sure to check with your doctor or healthcare professional. Some foods interact with some medications. What’s right for most may not be right for you.
During days where you feel good, you should look into nutrient-dense foods. During these days, you want to build up your protein to keep your body strong, while also taking in as many good nutrients for your body. Good sources of protein are lean meats like chicken, as well as eggs, nuts, legumes, and dairy products like yogurt. These should all be eaten with a lot of citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables to get the most nutritional “bang for your buck.”
These leafy greens and citrus are also great foods that boost the immune system of cancer patients. Yogurt, berries, and sweet potatoes are other examples of foods that can be turned into immune-boosting snacks. The berries in particular are filled with antioxidants, which have been linked to cancer-reducing properties. These make them serve as foods good for cancer recovery. If you are worried about getting all the nutrients you need, you can also consult your doctor about supplements.
If you are not feeling great, there are lots of ways to get these foods in easier-to-eat forms. Many patients we know swear by Daily Harvest’s quick smoothies to get extra calories. These antioxidant-rich, ready-to-go smoothies make it easy to get the right nutrition and a scoop of protein powder can make the perfect meal replacement or enhancement. Soups filled with vegetables are also an excellent choice, as are yogurts and smoothies that are mixed in with plenty of fruit. Conversely, if you are suffering from nausea, you will want to avoid overly spicy foods, which can further upset your stomach. Alcohol should also be avoided or at least cutback. Alcohol aside, staying well hydrated is key for robust health.
A quick tip for first-day chemo patients - don’t bring your favorite food with you. Oftentimes, patients will develop a subconscious correlation between the food they eat and the first day of chemotherapy. We’ve even heard of folks not wanting to touch that food for years afterwards!
How to Meal Plan
It’s one thing to know what foods are good for cancer patients. It’s another thing being able to organize and prepare meals based on these foods. There are some useful tips to keep in mind:
- Your appetite may not be on the same timetable it used to be. It’s okay to have more, smaller meals in a day instead of sticking to your regular schedule. Eat when you are hungry, but also feel comfortable eating smaller portions.
- Don’t feel bad about mixing up your style of the meal either - if you love breakfast-style foods, you can have them for dinner. This helps make eating a more comfortable experience.
- Remember that you can get food through smoothies, shakes, and soups if your stomach prefers liquid food. We have a great partner in Soupergirl who creates amazing ready-to-eat soups.
- Have family, friends, or volunteers help you with your shopping and cooking. If you have favorite healthy snacks, make sure that they are readily at hand.
- If your family is busy, groceries can also be delivered to your home via Instacart, Shipt, Boxed, and Peapod. Your local grocery store will likely have additional delivery options or carside pickup.
- DoorDash, UberEats, and GrubHub can send you food from local and chain restaurants.
- You can also get full meal boxes delivered through services like our partner Sunbasket, or others that exist like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Freshly, EveryPlate, and Home Chef.
- Your family and friends can also use meal planning services to help them. Not Just is a wonderful partner of ours who can stock your shelves with important pantry staples, removing the stress of searching for ingredients.
When to Throw "Healthy" Eating Out The Window
Cancer sucks. Sometimes eating healthy sucks, right?! If you don’t feel like you can eat another bite of quinoa or spoonful of yogurt, but your mouth waters when you see a double-bacon cheeseburger - go for it! For cancer patients, calories are important, and if the only way those calories are getting in your body is through a brownie sundae, then grab a spoon and pull out the hot fudge.
Learn More About Nutrition and Meal Delivery
OneVillage is the first online wishlist, planning tool, and specialty product retailer for cancer patients and their supporters. A cancer diagnosis is worrying enough - you should feel confident that there are resources out there to help. Whatever your questions or concerns are, OneVillage is here to support you.