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Foods to Help You Heal and Feel Your Best While Fighting Cancer

July 7, 2016
Authored by Serena Cochran, BS, RD
Most of us have or have had a friend or family member with cancer. It can be a difficult diagnosis so it’s no wonder that proper nutrition can take a backseat – in fact, many patients have some form of malnutrition before they even begin treatment. But good nutrition is very important in fighting cancer. It can lead to improved tissue repair and healing, decreased risk of infection, increased energy and strength and a reduction in the severity of treatment related side effects.

Besides getting plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, one of the most important nutrients to maintain is protein. Protein and calorie needs during cancer treatment are elevated and good protein intake is one way to increase energy levels. Unfortunately, most people with cancer are probably not getting in enough good sources of protein.

Animal proteins such as dairy, meats, eggs and fish are excellent sources. Greek yogurt for example is very high in protein and is easy to add to shakes or can be a delicious dip for fresh fruit. Summer is also the perfect time for grilling. Get the grill started and cook fish, chicken or lean steaks right from the backyard; just be careful not to char or blacken foods cooked on the grille.

Protein shakes and supplements can be helpful too for patients with cancer. Ensure and Boost nutritional shakes are a good way to get in extra protein and calories. But before trying other supplements such as protein powders, contact your oncology dietitian to be sure there are no additives that can alter the effectiveness of cancer treatments.

So, how do you know if you’re not getting enough protein? One biomarker that was previously used to monitor protein intake was the lab value albumin. Some patients may become nervous when their albumin levels are consistently low, but actually albumin can be low in most cases of systemic inflammation that cancer may cause. Weight loss is normally a better indicator that protein needs are not being met.

There are other medical interventions that can help as well, so be sure to talk to your medical team if you already have any nutrition related problems or weight loss prior to diagnosis. For more information about nutrition and cancer, make an appointment with a registered dietitian or visit the American Cancer Society or National Cancer Institute websites and search nutrition.

Serena Cochran is an outpatient oncology dietitian at the Rose Bove LaRose Cancer Center at Day Kimball Hospital.


Related Resources

Cancer Care at Day Kimball Hospital: First Class Cancer Care, Close to Home


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Carmen Pisc, MD

Carmen Pisc, MD

Hematology/Oncology

Dr. Pisc brings more than 30 years of experience to Day Kimball. She is board-certified in hematology and oncology, and specializes in breast and ovarian cancer. Dr. Pisc has directed and chaired...more »
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