Healthy lifestyle behaviors can have a huge influence on a person’s chances of developing cancer and their recovery if they’ve been through cancer treatment. Not smoking, limiting alcohol and getting adequate sleep all play a role. Another critical element is nutrition.
“Controlling weight through nutrition and exercise is important because obesity has been implicated in several types of cancer,” says Augusta Health clinical oncology dietician Mary Beth Landes, MS, RD, CSO.
Consuming a balanced diet with a variety of phytochemicals—naturally occurring chemicals in plants that help protect the body from cancer and other diseases—is beneficial in maintaining health.
Landes suggests eating a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables because different types of phytochemicals work together to boost health and reduce cancer risk, she adds.
“During cancer recovery, the focus shifts to recovering from treatment-related side effects,” Landes says. “Patients often regain weight, but if they choose high-fat and high-sugar foods, they are more likely to regain fat instead of muscle, which can lead to increased recovery time as well as an increased risk of cancer recurrence.”
Colorful fruits and vegetables can help make up for nutrient loss during treatment, she adds, especially vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.
Landes also suggests limiting—or even eliminating—red and processed meats, which increase risk of colorectal cancer when more than 16 ounces are consumed per week. She also suggests limiting added sugars. There’s a myth that sugar feeds cancer, she says, but no direct link has been proven. Our cells actually need a form of sugar, called glucose, for energy. But consuming too many high-sugar foods can result in excess calories without nutritional value, raising the risk of weight gain. Foods high in added sugar can also indirectly lead to high insulin levels, which have been shown to increase the risk of cancer development.
Those who improve their nutrition through a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet with adequate protein can improve recovery times and lower their chances of cancer coming back, Landes says. This can be even more pronounced by adding physical activity in the mix.
For quality protein, Landes suggests turning to plant-based sources like beans, nuts and soy products. For animal-based proteins, try fish, chicken, turkey, eggs and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
To get more personalized insights, consider an appointment with Landes, who specializes in oncology nutrition and meets with patients both during and following cancer treatment. Also check the Augusta Health calendar of events, found on the hospital website, for twice-yearly food events that showcase cancer nutrition topics and cooking demonstrations.
Visit augustahealth.com/nutrition to find the nutrition services that fit your needs, or call (833) AHC-HLTH to make an appointment with a registered dietician.