Written by SMH Registered Dietitian Laura McLeroy
Safeguarding your health begins with adopting a healthy lifestyle, including eating well and being physically active so you can regulate your metabolism. While many foods can help prevent disease, others increase your risk of developing diseases like diabetes and cancer.
So how are we supposed to know which foods will support our health and which ones will undermine it? The simplest answer is to stick to nutrient-dense, whole foods. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the aisles lined with processed foods. Store shelves are filled with products claiming to be “healthy” or “all natural,” many of which are just the opposite.
But what if you’re fighting a disease like cancer and struggling to maintain a healthy weight? Or in remission and need to restore your energy? Choosing the right foods can help.
Check out the tips below and in the accompanying video for some research-based rules of thumb for eating to meet your health needs—whether you’re aiming to prevent disease, in active cancer treatment or recovering from treatment.
Eating Well to Prevent Cancer
- Be sure your diet includes foods with phytochemicals, the naturally-occurring compounds in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and plants that can influence cancer risk. Research suggests eating a five or more plant-based servings daily may reduce cancer risks. (A standard serving size is a half-cup.)
- Increase the variety of foods you consume by adding one new food each week or substituting a new item for an old standard in a favorite recipe.
- Choose organic fruits and vegetables rather than conventional when they are available and when it fits your budget. Eat more organic produce means less exposure to potentially harmful pesticides and herbicides.
- Reduce the amount of white sugar and processed foods you eat. Consuming an excess of white sugar or processed foods promotes inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases, including cancer.
- Add healthy fats to your diet. These are found in nuts, avocados, olive oils and fish.
- Drink plenty of water and drink unsweetened teas, which provide flavonoids that can neutralize harmful free radicals.
- Get your required nutrients from foods rather than supplements as much as possible.
Eating Well during Cancer Treatment
- When undergoing cancer treatments, maximizing nutrition is key to promoting wellness, treating symptoms or tolerating possible side effects.
- Some cancer treatments decrease appetite. But when we eat less than the body needs, it’s easy to become malnourished. In these cases, it’s important to eat small, frequent meals with nutrient-dense foods. Try to cook ahead when you have energy or ask for help with preparing meals.
- Minimize or avoid white sugar and processed foods.
- When possible, include probiotic foods in your diet. Probiotics help restore gut flora, enabling the digestive system to maximize nutrient absorption when we eat. Probiotics are most commonly found in dairy yogurts and fermented foods.
Eating Well after Cancer Treatment
- Choose a low-fat, high-fiber diet to restore energy, build muscle strength and return to a healthy weight.
- Consume eight to 10 servings of fruits and or vegetables daily.
Laura McLeroy is a registered dietitian who helps patients at Sarasota Memorial Cancer Institute reach their health and wellness goals.