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We have put together a few top tips that can be followed by most people having chemotherapy treatment. Of course, everyone is different, so you can get advice tailored to you from your dietitian according to your treatment stage, but this is a good place to start.
One of the things we are always asked about is supplements. Following a cancer diagnosis, it is perfectly normal to re-evaluate your diet and lifestyle in an attempt to make it healthier. Adding in supplements is often the first thought to make sure there aren’t any key vitamins and minerals missing.
The reason we do not recommend taking supplements for cancer patients through any cancer treatment is due to the impact they might have on treatment. The role of anti-oxidants is to protect our cells from damage; therefore, there is the risk that taking high strength anti-oxidant supplements, for example vitamin C, E or turmeric, could allow the cancer cells to be protected from the effects of the targeted oncological treatments. We encourage optimising your diet to meet your macro and micro nutritional requirements through dietary modification. We want your nutritional intake to complement the medical treatment you are having.
The only supplement that we suggest to everyone at the LOC is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for immune function and bone health. As there are only a small number of dietary sources including: oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals, most of our vitamin D comes from the sunlight. However, in the UK we can only produce vitamin D from sunlight between April and September. Due to the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK, we recommend everyone having chemotherapy have their vitamin D levels checked.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends a minimum supplement of 10mg (400iu) per day.
Something all oncology dietitians are told is: ‘I’ve cut sugar out of my diet’. The most common form of sugar people tend to cut out is white table sugar (sucrose), found in cakes, biscuit and confectionary. Sugar is also found naturally in honey, fruit and vegetables, dairy products (lactose) and starchy food such as bread, rice and pasta. It is important to remember that most carbohydrates are eventually digested or converted into glucose by the body for fuel.
A cancer cell uses a lot of energy to multiply at a fast rate and grow quickly; this means they need a lot of glucose, amino acids and fats. A solid tumour can use around 5-10g of glucose per day. This is where the myth that sugar ‘feeds’ cancer has come from, and the idea behind removing sugar from the diet is to starve the cancer cells of fuel so they cannot grow.
To exclude all sugar from your diet would be extremely difficult and very restrictive, and at the moment there is limited evidence to suggest that you should. Even if you weren’t to eat any carbohydrates whatsoever, your liver and muscle stores would still be able to release glucose, which is essential to keep your body working.
We recommend avoiding large quantities of refined sugar because of the indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and there is robust scientific evidence to show that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer, including breast, bowel and oesophagus.
Fatigue is a very common side effect that 90% of people with cancer experience. It can be the cause of the cancer itself, or a side effect of the treatment. Alongside physical activity and relaxation techniques, diet can play a key role in the management of fatigue.
It is important to remember that a tired brain is a hungry brain. You may find yourself naturally reaching for quick and easy sources of energy when you are feeling fatigued, for example chocolate bars, crisps, sweets or high carbohydrate meals.
Your energy levels can fluctuate alongside your blood glucose levels. It is therefore important to make sure that you are eating foods that are tougher for your body to digest, which means the sugar (where we get our energy) is released gradually. These foods are called low glycaemic index foods, for example sourdough or granary bread, wholemeal pasta, grains and brown rice. Including lean protein and healthy fats with each meal will also slow down the digestion further, by slowing the time is takes for your stomach to empty.
Meals to Eat When Living with Cancer:
Snacks to Eat When Living with Cancer:
The dietitians at LOC have 17 years of experience of working in the field of oncology and are able to support the specific needs of each individual following a cancer diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. For more information, visit the Nutrition section of our website. To book an appointment, please call 0207 317 2628 or email email@example.com.