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Diet and Nutrition Recommendations During Cancer Treatment

TREATING THE NUTRITIONAL HEALTH OF CANCER PATIENTS

The battle against cancer is long and grueling. Patients are like runners in the marathon. They need adequate and good nutrition to improve their immune system function and build resilience in order to cope with all kinds of difficulties encountered during cancer treatment. Sometimes, it might even help to improve the status of the patient and complete their treatment on time which allows them to win the battle against cancer.

In general, cancer patients should have a diet that is balanced and increases caloric and protein intake. Their daily diet should include grain, meat, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. However, given the differences in physical status, levels of disease, and treatments, patients should consult medical professionals and a registered dietitian before developing a dietary plan that meets their needs.

Below is the information about diet and nutrition recommendations during cancer. FAQs regarding diet for cancer patients and cancer therapy have been provided by a Registered Dietitian at our center. Our center provides free consultation appointments with professional nutritionists for patients who are undergoing treatment at IOC. Please fill in the Contact Us form at the bottom of this page or reach out to one of our staff for appointment.

Cancer Diet Tips | Increase Calorie and Protein Intake


Increasing calorie intake could increase the amount of energy your body needs, preventing weight and muscle tissue loss due to nutritional deficiencies. High-calorie foods include starchy foods, meats, fruits and dairy products. During cancer treatment, the amount of protein intake will increase by 1.5 to 2 times than your normal intake. Foods such as meats, eggs, seafood, fish, and soybean products are high in protein.

Cancer Diet Tips | Minerals and Vitamins


In regards to minerals, high-selenium foods like eggs and prawns have antioxidant properties, while foods that are high in zinc like beans and fish could aid wound-healing and the formation of skin, hair, nails and oral mucosa. In addition, vitamin A (carrots, spinach), vitamin C (orange, tomato) and vitamin E (nut, dark green vegetables) have different benefits during treatment.

Cancer Diet Tips | Eat Small, Frequent Meals and Avoid Cold and Hot Food at the Same Time


Patients should eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day, rather than three large meals. This can help alleviate some of the side effects of cancer treatment, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and constipation. In addition, patients should avoid eating cold and hot foods at the same time which could lead to vomiting. If a mouth ulcer occurs or the patients are having difficulties swallowing, using a blender to puree food into smoother consistency can make it easier to swallow.

Cancer Diet Tips | Nutritional Supplement


If the patients experience loss of appetite and are diagnosed with nutritional deficiency, they can use nutritional supplements to increase their daily intake. According to the guidelines from the European Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ESPEN), cancer patients are recommended to have nutritional supplements that are high in protein and calories (1.0-2kcal/ml) with omega-3 (1g EPA per portion). For patients who lose weight and exhibit high insulin resistance due to their bodies being less able to process carbohydrates, they are recommended to eat a diet that is high in fat.

Cancer Diet Tips | Stimulate Taste Buds with Sweet and Sour Flavors


Cancer patients do not have to only eat bland foods. On the contrary, tomato soup, fruit juices and pickled vegetables could help patients stimulate their appetite. Some patients might find their taste buds becoming less sensitive during treatment. To stimulate their taste buds, they can season food with natural seasoning and herbs, vinegar, lime juice and fruit juices while marinating and cooking their favorite meals.

Cancer Diet Tips | Stimulate Saliva Production with Fruits


Cut fruits like watermelon into cubes, store it in the freezer and let the patients have them as snacks to ease the painf from mucositis. Alternatively, these can be replaced with fruit candy. These can help stimulate saliva production which is good for patients with dry mouth. In addition, they could also choose for foods that are juicy and with a smooth consistency which can also ease the discomfort of a dry mouth.

Cancer Diet Tips | High-fiber Diet (Depending on Stool Frequency)


Eat more high-fiber foods including whole-grain foods, fruits, mushrooms, black fungus, sesame sweet soup and congee with sweet potatoes. These foods filled with insoluble fiber and soluble fiber that can help relieve constipation. However, if the patients have diarrhea, they should avoid high-fiber foods, coffee and milk. They should also stay away from foods that are too sweet and oily as well as those with strong flavors. These patients are recommended to have low-fiber foods like white breads, plain congee, meats, seafood, eggs, gourds and fruit juices with no pulp in order to reduce stress on the stomach.

Debunking the myths of cancer diet


There is a plethora of myths surrounding cancer diet, some of which include “eating less could starve the cancer cells until it dies off” and “having high-sugar foods encourages cancer cell growth”. To allay all of your doubts, our dietitian will walk you through which of these common beliefs are myths and which are actually true.

During cancer treatment, should our diet mainly consist of bland foods?

Diets for cancer patients should be balanced and nutritious. It is not necessary to deliberately follow a strict diet with bland foods. A more important rule to follow is to cook in an innovative way that can stimulate the patients’ appetite so that they could reach sufficient level of nutrient intake that their body needs during cancer treatment.

Are there any foods that the patients need to avoid

Given that patients’ immune system will fluctuate during cancer treatment, they should keep an eye on their hygiene and safety of the food preparation. They should avoid having foods that are not fully cooked, prone to bacterial infections, molded or rotten, such as salad, sushi and sashimi. At the same time, they should avoid consuming highly carcinogenic foods such as preserved meats, salted fish and alcohol.

Can cutting down on sugar or eating less starve cancer?

Cutting down on sugar or eating less to “starve” cancer is an unwise way to treat cancer and quite possibly backfires because the patients will become energy insufficient, resulting in malnourishment and weight loss. Not only can this damage your body, but it also adversely affects the progress and effectiveness of cancer treatment.

Will nutrient-intense foods feed cancer cells?

No scientific studies have demonstrated that having nutrient-intense foods will encourage cancer cell growth. On the contrary, cancer patients are advised to consume more nutritious foods because the patients need an abundant level of nutrition before, during and after treatment to prevent weight loss and get them through the journey against cancer.

Will eating chicken or eggs encourage cancer cell growth?

Some patients are worried about the adverse impacts of hormones contained in chicken and eggs on their cancer. In fact, medical research has yet to show that hormones consumed by the patients can stimulate cancer cell growth. In addition, the use of growth hormones has been banned in poultry production internationally and locally. Thus theoretically speaking, the commercially available poultry should not contain an excess of hormones. Also, patients can buy poultry that is labelled as having no added hormones for extra concern.

Can having a lot of vitamins reduce the risks of getting cancer?

Consuming a normal level of Vitamin A, C and E from natural sources can help wound healing. However, research studies have demonstrated that having a variety of vitamin supplements does not help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Some studies have even pointed out that in some cases, an extremely high level of vitamin supplementation could increase the risk of getting cancer.

Can having a lot of vitamins reduce the risks of getting cancer

Consuming a normal level of Vitamin A, C and E from natural sources can help wound healing. However, research studies have demonstrated that having a variety of vitamin supplements does not help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Some studies have even pointed out that in some cases, an extremely high level of vitamin supplementation could increase the risk of getting cancer.

Should patients take Trametes Versicolor (yunzhi) or Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi Mushroom) as part of their diet for nutrition?

Patients should look out for what they eat and take during their cancer treatment. As chemotherapy increases the liver’s workload, the liver will be further weakened, typically by increasing the amount of bilirubin from consuming harmful substances.

There have been cases where patients found their liver enzymes increased abnormally after taking Trametes Versicolor and Lingzhi Mushrooms and had to put a pause on chemotherapy for the liver function to resume normal function, which delayed the cancer treatment.

In theory, according to the clinical reports from American Cancer Society, the PSP and PSK contained in Trametes Versicolor and Lingzhi Mushrooms could strengthen the immune system. Some of the ingredients might have anti-cancer properties, but the effectiveness of preventing cancer remains to be further investigated.

Is eating “superfoods” good for health?

“Superfoods” is simply a marketing buzzword. Foods like asparagus, green power juice and flaxseed have become popular around the world over the past few years. In general, having these natural foods in your diet will not cause harm on health, but remember: “less is more”. One patient had too much asparagus for a period of time during cancer treatment and developed an abnormal increase in potassium, which affected the progress of the treatment.

Should cancer patients try a ketogenic diet


A ketogenic diet is a very high-fat diet with 90% of fat consumption including “good” unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocado. It also includes the consumption of “bad” saturated fats such as palm oil, coconut oil, lard and butter.

Ketogenic diets are typically used to treat children who suffer from epilepsy to minimize the frequency of seizure episodes. The benefits of a ketogenic diet on cancer remain unsubstantiated. However, scientific theories seem to point to the harms that it could do to cancer patients instead. Given that patients with liver and colorectal cancer have a weak digestive and immune system, over-consumption of fats can lead to digestive issues which could cause a general deterioration in their conditions. There are also research studies showing that an excessive amount of fat consumption could lead to higher risks of developing breast cancer.

80%

Depending on the stage and type of the tumor, 80% of cancer patients have experienced some sort of nutritional deficiency.

20%

Over 20% of deaths in cancer patients were caused by malnutrition and cachexia, not due to their cancer itself.

5%

More than 5% of weight loss can increases the patient’s risk of death.

Fully Supported by Dietitians in the Battle Against Cancer


Our Dietitians strive to provide all kinds of support that patients need during their cancer-fighting journey in ways that eliminate any dietary problems that could stand in the way of effective cancer treatment. Our Dietitian will closely monitor and assess the patients’ diet and weight before, during and after cancer treatment to avoid sudden weight loss. They will also offer personalized nutrition advice that helps the patients replenish the nutrition they will need while maintaining their overall quality of life.

Consultation with Our Professional Dietitian

Wonder how you should plan for your diet during cancer therapy period? Getting a headache digesting every piece of nutritional information? We offer nutrition consultation services to answer each and every question you have! During the 15-minute free nutrition consultation for patients who are undergoing treatment at HKIOC and HKAOC, our on-site dietitian, Edward Li (U.S. Registered Dietitian) will:

  1. Assess your health conditions with different tests;
  2. Provide personalized nutrition advice that fulfills the needs during your treatment;
  3. Explain how to choose the food that helps you relieve discomfort arising from cancer therapy and enhance your physical stamina;
  4. Eliminates misconceptions about diet and cancer.

If you are interested, please reach out to our staff for an appointment.

李振洋先生

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References:

  1. https://www.healio.com/hematology-oncology/practice-management/news/print/hemonc-today/%7B0830055d-8214-4193-a331-51ee9b82bf26%7D/malnutrition-almost-epidemic-among-patients-with-advanced-cancer?page=1
  2. Warren S. The immediate cause of death in cancer. Am J Med Sci 1932; 184:610-615 ;
  3. Tisdale MJ. Cachexia in Cancer patients. Nature Rev Cancer 2002; 2:862-871
  4. Ross PJ, et al. Do patients with weight loss have a worse outcome when undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancers? British journal of cancer. 2004;90:1905–1911. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6601781.
  5. 香港防癌會:給癌症患者的飲食指引:?https://www.hkacs.org.hk/uploadimages/download/00971/20PPfood_20Oct.pdf
  6. https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(16)30181-9/fulltext
  7. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/mushrooms-pdq

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