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Beyond 'Good' and 'Bad' Foods: Crafting Your Cancer Nutrition Spectrum

Updated: May 30

Spectrum of healthy foods to eat regularly and less healthy food to eat less  regularly

During my clinic sessions and workshops, a common question I am asked is whether I can provide a list of foods to eat, and foods to avoid. While it's natural to seek clear-cut guidance, ideally, healthy eating shouldn't be viewed as a list of 'good' and 'bad' foods. Instead, it should be seen as a dynamic spectrum of choices, varying in frequency and moderation, all aimed at achieving balance. Ultimately, we're not striving for a short-lived 'diet’ that we come on and off. Instead, we should aim to build a nourishing, sustainable, and enjoyable way of living.

Three Dietary Choices to Consciously Limit:

There are three dietary choices that warrant particular attention for limitation, given their impact on health. These three stand out as ones we unequivocally know should be consumed sparingly:

  1. Alcohol: Is linked to an increased risk of seven types of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund advises that for cancer prevention, it is best not to drink alcohol. I understand and completely respect that for some, enjoying an occasional drink is a personal decision. If you choose to include alcohol in your life, consider doing so mindfully and in moderation.

  2. Processed Meats: There is strong evidence that processed meats increase our risk of colorectal cancer. You can find some nice ideas for alternatives here.

  3. Sugary Drinks: I have included sugary drinks as they offer little to no nutritional value and can contribute to long-term health concerns, such as weight gain. Excess weight has been linked to 13 cancers, including some of the most common types. My recommendation is that these beverages are best enjoyed occasionally, such as during special occasions or when you're on holiday. What's most important is recognising that these occasional treats need not be a cause for concern. It's our daily habits and overall dietary patterns that have the most significant impact on our long-term health outcomes.

Beyond these three foods, the realm of nutrition becomes nuanced, as numerous other foods play positive roles in our diets. For example, cheese is typically high in saturated fat, yet provides a good source of calcium. When it comes to nuts and seeds, opting for raw varieties is ideal, as they offer a wealth of nutrients and can be particularly beneficial, while those with salted or sugary toppings are less nutritious choices overall.

Navigating Dietary Choices During Cancer Treatment:

When you are navigating dietary choices during cancer treatment, there are several factors to consider, and this list is by no means exhaustive. These factors include your specific nutritional needs for healing, any symptoms or side effects you may be dealing with, fluctuations in your appetite, taste changes, your energy levels when it comes to tasks like food shopping and meal preparation, the demands of trips to and from the hospital, and the emotional and psychological aspects of food.

Understanding the Significance of Food:

For many people, food is more than mere sustenance; it acts as a lifeline, providing comfort and familiarity, and a way to celebrate and connect. It reminds us that we retain control over some aspects of our lives even amid the challenges we face. We need to remember to practice self-compassion and acknowledge that there will be days when simply consuming anything at all is a significant victory! During these times, quick, nutritious options and time-saving strategies can make a world of difference.

Unique Challenges in Cancer Nutrition:

While enjoying food and drink can be a source of pleasure and joy in our lives, not everyone's experience with nutrition is the same. Some people may encounter distinct eating or drinking challenges, whether due to the location of the cancer, side effects of treatment, or other difficulties. In these cases, the focus remains on ensuring that nutrition continues to be a supportive and nurturing aspect of overall well-being. Taking a whole-person approach, it can be empowering to bolster what else you can do to take care of yourself beyond nutrition, adapting to your specific needs and circumstances.

Practical Tips for Well-being:

Here are some practical tips I share with my clients. I hope they will help you too:

  • Get Started Choice: Remember, any dietary choice you make is not set in stone. It's merely a starting point. You can experiment with a particular eating style for a few days or weeks and change it if it doesn't suit you.

  • Trust Your Instincts: Your journey is unique. While it's great to draw inspiration from others, remember that you are the CEO of your own life. Listen to your body and trust your instincts about what works best for you.

  • Start Small: When making changes, I recommend aiming for small, achievable goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed. As these habits become ingrained, you can gradually introduce more adjustments.

  • Perfection is a Myth: Striving for dietary perfection only adds unnecessary pressure. Instead, focus on making your food choices more nourishing rather than the concept of "healthy." Check out some of my suggestions here.

  • Prioritise the Positive: Concentrate on incorporating foods you should eat more regularly into your diet. By emphasising these choices, less healthful options will naturally find their place as occasional treats.

  • Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is essential. Ensure you're drinking enough fluids, as dehydration can make everything feel more challenging, worsen side effects during cancer treatment, and impact your overall well-being.

  • Adapt and Evolve: Recognise that your dietary needs and preferences may change throughout your cancer path. Be open to adapting your approach as you progress through treatment and healing.

  • Balance Beyond Nutrition: If nutrition feels overwhelming right now, it's more than okay to set it aside temporarily. Look at other ways to enhance your health and well-being, such as spending time in nature, incorporating short breathing exercises, or exploring mindfulness Apps in your daily routine.

The path to a healthier lifestyle is about balance, flexibility, and self-compassion. It's not about strict rules, but about making choices that support your well-being and bring enjoyment to your life. It's an active spectrum of options that allows you to customise your dietary approach to meet your individual needs, whether it's due to the demands of cancer treatment, personal preferences, or any other factors that shape your nutritional path.

If you have specific questions or are seeking personalised guidance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at The Cancer Dietitian for a consultation. Additionally, you are very welcome to explore the wealth of information available in the collection of free blogs and recipes. You can also download the free immune system-supporting eBook for valuable insights.

Telephone: 020 8064 2865

Appointments: book here

The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered personalised nutrition, dietetic, or medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for personalised advice and guidance regarding your specific medical condition or dietary needs.

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