By Crystal Langlois, RD
While many people resolve to eat healthier and lose weight in the New Year, good nutrition has many other benefits. By providing your body and cells with the right balance of nutrients, good eating habits help you maintain a healthy weight, improve mental function and live longer. But did you know that sound nutrition also helps support immune function and reduces the risk of cancer?
As an oncology nutritionist, I can tell you that when treating cancer, nutrition is a key ingredient that complements conventional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy to help improve a patient’s quality of life. Good nutrition can help lessen the side effects of cancer treatment, preserve lean body mass, decrease the risk of infection and help patients recuperate faster after treatment. In fact, because of these and other benefits, nutrition therapy is recognized as an essential component of integrated cancer treatment.
Many people have come to believe that eating healthy means giving up taste and convenience while having to spend more money on food. Not true. Eating healthy can be easy if you set realistic goals and focus on making healthy foods part of your daily routine. To get you started, here is a list of simple Do’s and Don’ts that will not only improve your overall nutrition and health, but also bolster your immune system and reduce your risk of cancer.
DON’T rely on pills for nutrition. Pills cannot substitute for a whole food. Foods contain much more than just vitamins and minerals. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring substances found in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains that may offer defenses against cancer.
DO drink water. You might think it’s bland compared with soda, soft drinks and coffee, but the cells in your body don’t think so; water is the most essential nutrient for them. For added flavor, try adding fresh fruits, cucumber slices or lemon and lime wedges to ice-cold water.
DON’T become dehydrated. If your urine is deep in color or has a strong odor, you need to drink more water.
DO eat a “mixed” breakfast that includes foods containing a little carbohydrate, a little protein and a little fat. For example, eggs and a bowl of fruit or a protein shake with soy milk and a banana includes three essential macronutrients, provides energy and tastes good too.
DON’T eat sugary foods in the morning. A burst of refined sugar on an empty stomach will trigger a flood of insulin that suppresses the immune system and feeds any abnormal cells (which exist in everyone’s body).
DO eat less fat. The average American eats the equivalent of a stick of margarine a day, most of which is hidden in processed foods such as club crackers, frozen pot pies, potato chips, pastries such as doughnuts and croissants, and snack cakes. However, because some fat is necessary, try to increase your consumption of healthier fats such as plant oils (olive oil, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseed).
DON’T eat daily amounts of corn oil and soybean oil, especially if hydrogenated (check food labels). These fats are immune-suppressive and researchers are linking hydrogenated fats to increased free radicals, which are destructive to cells. For the same reason, butter is a better choice than margarine.
DO increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Fiber helps maintain the health of your colon. There are many high-fiber pills, wafers, crackers and powders that are easy to work into your daily routine. Check food labels for high-quality fiber ingredients such as psyllium seed, psyllium husk, oat bran, mucilages, gums and pectin. Remember to drink more water while increasing fiber intake.
DON’T expect to get more fiber by eating iceberg or head lettuce; both have miniscule amounts of fiber. White grapes, corn, cucumbers and celery are also low in fiber. Some quick, simple high-fiber foods include dried figs, bananas, raisins, prunes, fresh oranges and dried dates – any of which are a good substitute for a candy bar or chips.
DO eat nutrient-dense foods every day. Try to consume yogurt, deep-orange vegetables (carrots, squash and sweet potatoes), vegetables in the cabbage family, tomatoes, citrus fruits and dark green leafy vegetables regularly. Remember, go for color; the deeper the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients it provides.
If you want more information about healthy nutrition that also can reduce your risk of cancer, visit the Cancer Treatment Centers of America website at www.cancercenter.com/after-care-services/nutritional-support.cfm. There, you’ll also find healthy snack and meal recipe cards you can download to get your whole family off to a happy and healthy New Year.
Crystal Langlois, RD, CSO, LD, is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition with Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Ga.