Top 8 FAQs: Nutrition’s Role in Fighting Cancer

Nutrition to Fight CancerWe had a great discussion on April 11th about nutrition with Tiffany Barrett, MS, RD, CSO, LD. She answered some great questions about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet to fight off cancer and enhance treatment. If you missed out on our live chat, the transcript is available here. Also, see below for highlights from the discussion.

Q: What are some good foods to eat during cancer treatment or to prevent cancer from reoccurring?

A: When it comes to reducing the likelihood of recurrence, reducing saturated fat intake is very important. This includes eliminating animal fat, butter, lard, etc. It is important to increase your intake of plant foods and grains while incorporating a variety of produce into your diet (i.e. leafy greens, berries, etc.).

Q: Is there a role that sugar plays in cancer?

A: First, it’s important to note there’s a difference between natural and refined/processed sugars. Unlike naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and dairy, processed sugars are significantly correlated with elevated bad cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in blood) and low good cholesterol. Eating too much added sugars can also result in excess body weight, which can increase the risk of cancer. It is best to limit your intake of sugar and sugary foods to protect your health, limit excess calories and make room for nutrient-dense foods that contain naturally occurring sugars (fruit, low-fat dairy).

Q: What is a good substitute for sugar?

A: There always are options like stevia, honey and agave nectar, but all of these are a bit sweeter than real sugar, so using less of them is advised. It’s important to understand that using moderation in any sort of sweetener is key. If you are having sugar cravings, focus on natural sources of sugar.

Q: Is there a connection between soy products and cancer?

A: There is evidence that soy intake (whole soy foods, rather than processed) prior to cancer diagnosis can have preventive effects. This has been found specifically with breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Whole soy food includes tofu, soy milk, edamame, and soy beans, whereas processed soy is found in things like soy hot dogs, soy burgers, soy powders, etc.

Q: Is food the best source for receiving nutrients? What about supplements and vitamins?

A: Our body best digests and absorbs nutrients through food consumption. There’s actually no hard evidence to demonstrate benefit from a standard multivitamin or other supplement use. Consuming nutrients through food allows for a wider variety of vitamins.

Q: Are meal replacement drinks a feasible option to getting proper nutrition during cancer treatment?

A: Meal replacement drinks certainly can be and often are helpful in combating or overcoming some of the side effects of treatment, such as loss of appetite. There are a wide variety of meal replacement drinks that provide a full balance of necessary nutrition, and also ways that people can make their own protein and meal replacement drinks at home to suit their taste.

Q: Is there any connection between physical activity and cancer prevention?

A: Absolutely. Regular, moderate physical activity: 4-5 times per week for 30-45 minutes each time, has been shown to have preventive effects.

Q: How important is it to start early with good nutrition to receive preventive benefits?

A: Starting young as far as introducing good eating habits to children is imperative. It’s also important to educate at a young age about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight are important in reducing not only your risk for cancer, but for a whole host of other conditions that are largely preventable.

For more information on diet and nutrition, please visit Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.  To make an appointment, please call 404-778-7777.

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