Good nutrition is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle and, according to Dana-Farber Nutritionist Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, it can also help in the battle against cancer.
“Good nutrition is really important for supporting a healthy immune system, which helps the healing process, and healthy eating can even help to alleviate side effects or symptoms related to cancer and treatment, such as fatigue, constipation, nausea, and mouth sores,” Kennedy says.
So where should the nutrition novice begin? The produce section. “Maintaining a healthy diet that is rich in plant-based foods is one way to not only promote survivorship, but also help to prevent cancer – it really is an excellent choice for everyone,” Kennedy says. She offers up these tips.
- Reach for bright colors. Look for brightly colored, in-season, preferably local, fruits and vegetables. What gives a fruit or vegetable its bright color, are specific phytonutrients, which are extremely beneficial for our immune systems.
- Be mindful of meat. A healthy diet can include protein-rich foods, like meat or fish. Just be mindful of the quality, type, and portion size. Don’t forget to reach for protein-rich plants too, like lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark green, leafy vegetables.
- Keep certain foods off your plate. Reduce and limit your intake of sugary or processed foods, artificial ingredients (sweeteners, colors, preservatives, etc.), and fatty red meat; grass fed beef is healthy in moderation.
- Start small. If you are not ready to overhaul your diet, start with little steps. If you are eating a sandwich, add a tomato, avocado, or cucumber. Or grab an apple as a snack instead of a bag of chips. Even a slight increase in your fruit and vegetable intake can have lasting benefits.
- Ask an Expert. There’s often conflicting information in the media about nutrition and its role in treatment. Work with someone who can help you take in all of the information and create a plan that is right for you.
Dana-Farber’s new free Apple iPhone app, Ask the Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer offers up another resource for healthy eating.
“I do love this app,” says Susan Gimilaro, a Dana-Farber patient who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in March 2011. “First, the recipes are delicious. And I like the shopping list; just click on a recipe, press the shopping list, and voila – I’ve got a grocery list! The steps, nutrition info, and tips included in each recipe leave me without questions.”
But when Gimilaro does have questions, she knows where to turn. I was looking for information about chia seeds. I found a variety of information on the Internet, but could I trust these sources? I wasn’t sure,” Gimilaro says. “However, in this app, under the Ask the Nutritionists feature, there was information on chia seeds – from a source I can trust.”
“I feel that I am eating healthier because the app is so readily available and offers delicious recipes,” Gimilaro says. “It is just easy to use – there is really no learning curve.”