Cancer Patients Need Nutrition

You Need Nutritional Support

When you have cancer, your needs for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is far above the average persons.

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 70 percent of men and 80 percent of women consumed less than two-thirds of the RDA for one or more nutrients.1  In particular where, vitamin E, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

When it comes to your battle with cancer you are going to need more than the RDA.  The RDA was never intended for people with disease but only to prevent malnutrition.  It is the bare minimum we need and yet most of us are not even meeting that minimum.  Even worse, there are no RDAs for phytochemicals (plant compounds).  These natural compounds are powerful!

These phytochemicals found in colorful fruits and vegetables can modulate tumor growth by affecting the workings of the genes that regulate cell division, the production of inflammatory biochemicals and tumor blood vessels as well as cells suicide mechanism (apoptosis).   Studies find that eating large quantities of vegetables improves the survival rates of patients with lung cancer and breast cancer.2

So, as a cancer patient not only do you need higher levels of vitamins and minerals but you also need high levels of phytochemicals in the diet.  What if you don’t feel like eating?  What if you don’t have the appetite for fruits and vegetables? I will discuss that and some solutions to help.

Protein First

When the body is under physical stress (and chemotherapy, radiation and surgery certainly counts as stress) the body’s need for energy and protein increases.  It’s so important because during cancer treatments you will likely experience tissue breakdown, stress on your immune system and stress on your liver, your bodies detoxification system.  Protein helps with all of these systems.

First, I would suggest you eat small amounts throughout the day so that you digest it properly and if need be, take digestive enzymes. Avoid ice cold beverages thirty minutes prior to your meal and during your meal.  Room temperature or warm beverages will help you digest your foods much better.  How about a nice herbal tea?

How much?

Use this calculation below as if you were at your “ideal” weight not your current weight, especially if you have lost a considerable amount.

To determine your protein needs in grams (g), first calculate your weight in kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. Next, multiply that number by 0.8.   Example: 140 lbs divided by 2.2 = 63.63 X 0.8= 50 grams of protein.  This is the bare minimum a 140lb. person would need in protein daily.

What does that look like in “food?” 

4oz piece of salmon would be 23g of protein, 4oz piece of chicken would be 31g of protein, 1 cup of lentils is 18g.

Other options are cold-processed whey, egg white proteins and grass-fed collagen proteins to put in a smoothie.  Including a high quality grass-fed bone broth can not only supply protein but heal your gut.  You don’t have to eat huge serving sizes to reach your daily goal.

Fat is Back!

Fat was the villain for so long, thank goodness we now have some great research showing how valuable it is.  Include at least 3 servings (serving size 1 Tabl.) daily of healthy fats in your diet such as coconut oil, olive oil and grass-fed butter.  If you need to gain weight increase to 5 servings daily.  Nuts and seeds are also a great source of healthy fats.  If you have a hard time digesting them try soaking them overnight in pure water.  Fats are needed by every cell in your body!

What About Carbs???

We all know that sugar feeds cancer.  The important consideration when eating carbohydrates is to stay away from white flour products and if possible gluten containing grains (which are inflammatory).  Some great options are Quinoa, Teff, Millet, gluten free oats and carbs from vegetables such as sweet potatoes and winter squash.  It’s best to keep your carbohydrates from grains on the “low” side as they are converted to sugar in the body.  There is no “minimum” for carbohydrates, your body stores glycogen in your muscles and liver so you always have a supply (unless your running a marathon!)

Friendly Fruit

Fruits are a mixed blessing.  They are loaded with antioxidants but they also are higher in sugar.  A good rule of thumb is no more than two servings per day and ideally from the low glycemic family such as berries. Again, make sure these are from organic sources.

Quality Matters

I can’t emphasize how important it is to get high quality food into your diet while under cancer treatments.  Supplements can be very helpful and I would recommend you work with a knowledgeable practitioner as to which ones may be best for your current situation.

If you find you have very little appetite or your food just sits in your stomach you may want to add in digestive enzymes such as HCL, bromelain or papain with your meals.  Some traditional herbal teas that can help stimulate appetite are ginger, catnip, fennel, peppermint and ginseng.

If solid food doesn’t sound good try immune boosting soups, bone broth, smoothies and fresh vegetable juices.  Make sure you are adding in a protein source for all of these suggestions if they replace a meal.

Integrative Therapies for Appetite

Acupuncture and acupressure can often times relieve nausea.  There is a wristband called “Sea-Band” for sea sickness that presses on a P6 acupressure point (available on Amazon).

Peppermint essential oils can be helpful in taming nausea.  Ginger capsules (500mg) taken every four hours may be helpful but should not be taken if platelet count is low.

No Energy to Cook?

I often hear this from clients going through cancer treatments.  I encourage them to gather their “A” team around them.  These are people who want to help but don’t know how.  Tell them what you need!  Ask if they will prepare a meal a week that has leftovers so you can freeze half.  Maybe suggest they shop for you once a week or hit the local farmers market for fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.  Have a “cook day” and have them help you make two or three meals that you can eat on during the week.  Many towns now have local juice shops with membership plans that include three to four fresh vegetable juices weekly, ask a friend to stop by and deliver those to you.  People want to help….ask!!!!

It’s so important to take an integrative approach to your cancer journey.  You want to hit that cancer from all sides!  Never underestimate the power of whole foods….food IS medicine.

Power-Packed Smoothie

  • 1 cup organic coconut or almond milk
  • 1 Tabl. Organic Hemp Hearts
  • 1 Tabl. almond butter
  • 1 small, organic apple
  • 1 large handful of organic spinach
  • 1/2 cup of organic blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 serving of whey, egg white or grass-fed collagen protein

Blend well and serve!

 

 

  1. Kant AK, Block, Dietary vitamin B-6 intake and food sources in the US population: NHANES II, 1976-1980. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Oct;52(4):707-16.
  2.  Hebert JR, Hurley TG.  Ma Y. The effect of dietary exposures on recurrence and mortality in early stage breast cancer.  Breast Cancer Research & Treatment.  1998;51(1):17-28

About the Author: Chris McKee

Chris McKee Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselo

Chris McKee is a Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselor with over 30 years of experience in whole-food cooking, healthy lifestyle coaching, individual nutritional counseling and speaking to 1,000’s of people about the role of good nutrition in preventing disease.

Chris is also a Certified Nutragenomix practitioner and this allows her to look deep into your genetic profile and personalize your nutrition program based on your unique genetic fingerprint.

She runs on-line courses including her 10 Day Clean Eating Challenge, 21 Days Prepping for the Keto Diet as well as her Hope 4 Cancer Recovery program.

Chris and her husband Ed love to travel, hence the name “The Nomadic Nutritionist”.  She is a grandmother of four and a great-grandma of two!  She loves to cook, explore new food finds, hike and fish.

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