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Tips to Combat Cancer


I’m thrilled to share with you some tips to help you prevent and combat cancer from Karen Collins, MS, RD, Nutrition Advisor to the the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Karen and I met (and instantly bonded) when we were co-presenters at the Dr. Oz-headlined Food For Your Whole Life conference in New York City this past June, and I truly appreciate her willingness to share information that is sure to be helpful to millions affected in some way by the “C” word.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, what are the first dietary steps (if any) he or she should take?

Don’t automatically assume your eating habits should be different than basic healthy eating habits. However, different types of cancer treatments can have different effects on eating. In some cases, people need a different eating pattern during treatment because they can’t tolerate certain foods and need to rely on other foods to meet their nutrient needs. Ask your cancer treatment center or doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian, preferably one certified in oncology nutrition, to help you make sure you are meeting your needs and provide ideas to fill any gaps. Some people may need help to minimize weight loss that can occur during treatment, while others may need help to minimize weight gain; both goals are important.

When diagnosed with cancer, people feel a range of emotions; since many of us can be emotional eaters, do you have any tips to help those with cancer manage stress without turning to food?

Try not to use food to meet non-food needs. Emotional needs are real, but foods can’t fill the hole created by emotions like anxiety or depression. Regular physical activity—at even a modest level if that’s all you can do—seems to improve quality of life and helps many people better cope with emotions. Others find that massage, meditation, prayer, music, humor and relaxation techniques (which are easy to learn) help deal with emotions.

Eating well can do a lot to support your health during this time, but don’t let health concerns remove the enjoyment of foods’ flavor. For some people, treatment side effects can impede enjoyment of food, but if you don’t have those problems, don’t think so medically or scientifically about your food that you can’t savor it. Eat healthfully and enjoy food as much as you can.

Do you have any nutrition/diet tips for those who care for someone with cancer (to help themselves as well as their loved one)?

Try not to pressure yourself to provide “perfect food.” Sometimes we want so much to do something to help our loved one faced with cancer, and we identify food as something that we can control. But if our loved one can’t eat what we offer, it’s easy to become frustrated and anxious, and that adds a layer of tension to the act of eating. If you notice that your loved one is not eating well, do bring it to the attention of his/her doctor or ask to see a registered dietitian if one is one staff. But try not to get over-burdened by thinking that it’s up to you to save your loved one’s life by getting them to eat what you think they need.

For those who have overcome cancer, any special tips for how to eat?

Research is still underway to clarify the role healthy eating can play in reducing the risk of cancer recurrence, but recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research urge cancer survivors to follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. Growing evidence show that survivors can benefit from weight control, regular physical activity, and a mostly plant-based diet. Evidence does not suggest that any of these steps need to be carried to an extreme, and other than to resolve a deficiency that has developed  (perhaps during cancer treatment), supplements do not seem to protect against recurrence. Vitamin D supplements may play a role for many people, but even here it’s not a matter of “the more the better” for everyone.

What are your 3 top tips for those who want to prevent cancer?

Aim to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Be physically active every day in some way–aim to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate activity through the day; 60 is even better. Finally, focus eating around vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Make these plant foods at least 2/3 of your plate each time you eat.

A landmark report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) says that we can prevent about a third of our most common cancers with healthy eating, regular physical activity and a healthy weight. Unfortunately, people often are confused or overwhelmed by what a diet to lower cancer risk actually involves. A simple concept without all kinds of rules conveys the target:  Aim to have plant foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans—supply at least 2/3 of what you eat at each meal, with animal foods comprising no more than 1/3 of your meal—that’s the New American Plate! (see resources below).

Karen Collins, MS, RD speaks widely to the public and to health professionals and writes a syndicated nutrition news column (HealthTalk) and regular in-depth nutrition research reviews for health professionals that run on the AICR Web site.

Here are some resources Karen suggests:

The New American Plate: http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reduce_diet_new_american_plate

To sign up for an AICR e-newsletter, check this out: http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=enews_subscribe

For people in cancer treatment: http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pub_nutrition_cp

For cancer survivors: http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pub_nutrition_cs

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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