When you are facing cancer, it is more important than ever to follow a nutritious diet that strengthens your immune system and helps your body detoxify. This often is challenging, however, because some cancer treatments interfere with the body's ability to take in or use nutrients. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation of lent experience…

  • Damage to salivary glands resulting in a dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and unpleasant changes in taste.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Impaired absorption of nutrients and calories due to changes in the normal intestinal bacteria.

These factors and the resulting loss of appetite deplete the body's stores of nutrients and can lead to excessive weight loss that impedes your recovery, strains your immune system and adds to fatigue.

The following nutrition plan is designed for cancer patients undergoing treatment-as well as for those who finished treatment within the past year to help rebuild nutrient reserves. All supplements below are sold at health-food stores and/or online.

Important: Discuss your diet and supplement use with your oncologist—this helps the doctor determine the best treatment and followup regimen for you. What to do...

  • Eat plenty of protein. Protein helps repair body tissues and prevent unwanted weight loss. It also helps minimize the memory and concentration problems ("chemo brain") common among patients on chemotherapy. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women is 38 grams (g) of protein per day and for men it is 46 g but for cancer patients, I recommend at least 70 g per day.

Example: With breakfast, include one egg (7g) and eight ounces of unsweetened soy milk (8 g)...with lunch, a cup of lentil soup (10 g) and eight ounces of low-fat yogurt (12 g).. as a snack, two ounces of almonds (12 g)...with dinner, three ounces of chicken or fish (21 g) or one cup of soybeans (29 g).

Helpful: Consider a protein supplement—such as Biochem Sports Greens & Whey, which provides 20 g of protein per one-ounce serving.

Have eight ounces of low-fat yogurt or kefir daily. Check labels and choose unsweetened brands with live active cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium. Chemotherapy and radiation destroy beneficial bacteria in the gut. Restoring them with probiotics helps allevi. ate nausea, optimizes immune system function and reduces production of cancer promoting chemicals.

Alternative: Try a probiotic supplement that contains at least one billion colony forming units (CFU) per gram. Choose coated capsules to protect the probiotics from stomach acids, Take on an empty stomach upon awakening and also one hour before lunch and dinner.

Good brand: Natren Healthy Trinity (866462-8736, www.natren.com).

  • Boost fiber. This combats constipation, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Aim for six to 10 servings of whole grains daily.

Examples: One slice of whole-grain bread ...one-half cup of cooked brown rice, rolled barley, millet or buckwheat...one-half cup of old-fashioned oatmeal.

Also eat seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, which provide fiber and cancer-fighting phytonutrients (plant chemicals). If you have lost your taste for vegetables, have juice instead it is easier to swallow. Carrots, celery, watercress and beets make delicious juices. Juicers are sold at kitchenware stores ($50 to $150).

  • Focus on anti-inflammatory foods. The same enzyme that causes inflammation also may increase levels of compounds that allow cancer cells to grow. Lowering the body's inflammatory response may be protective.

Best: Eat cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, cod) at least three times per week-these are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. I recommend avoiding tuna, swordfish and shark, which may contain mercury and other contaminants.

Alternative: Take 25 g of a fish oil daily with food.

Also helpful: Use curry powder liberally to spice up vegetables, meats and poultry—it is a natural anti-inflammatory.

  • Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. These bone-building nutrients are especially important for cancer patients who take steroid medication to control nausea, because steroids can weaken bones. Increase your intake of foods that provide calcium (low-fat dairy, fortified cereals, leafy green vegetables)... magnesium (nuts, beans, quinoa). and vitamin D (fish, fortified dairy). Also supplement daily with 1,500 mg of calcium citrate...400 mg of magnesium...and 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D-3.
  • Minimize intake of sugar and white flour. Eating these foods temporarily increases your levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which has hormonelike effects. Although the long-term consequences are unclear, some research suggests a link between high IGF levels and cancer, especially of the breast and colon.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration contributes to decreased salivation...promotes inflammation and stresses the kidneys and liver, making it harder for these organs to detoxify the body. Drink at least six eight-ounce glasses of water, broth or tea per day.

Beneficial: Green tea contains compounds that may inhibit angiogenesis (creation of blood vessels that feed cancer cells)

  • Opt for organic. Conventionally grown produce often has pesticide and herbicide residues that stress the liver. Choose organic free-range chicken and beef from grass-fed cows to minimize exposure to antibiotics and hormones in the feed of nonorganic animals. Remove the skin from poultry and fish before cooking, even if organic-skin tends to store a high concentration of toxins.

Helpful: A dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition can help monitor your nutrient intake and recommend alternatives if certain foods are difficult to eat.

Referrals: American Dietetic Association, 800-877-1600, www.eatright.org

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