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The important role of nutrition

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

Nutrition plays an important role in many aspects of cancer. The relationship between cancer and diet is complex and one of years of research and debate. The general recommendations for cancer survivors are no different from the recommendations for anyone who wants to improve their health; exercise, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, avoid tobacco and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. For cancer patients, these strategies have added benefits as they can help improve quality of life, and aid the transition into survivorship.

The World Cancer Research Fund published a report for cancer survivors and this has suggested that even small dietary and lifestyle changes can produce large health benefits. These recommendations include:

1.      Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

2.     Choose healthy fats, such as olive, vegetable, nut and seed oils.

3.     Select proteins that are low in saturated fat, such as fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and pulses.

4.     Limit red meats (such as beef, pork, and lamb) and avoid processed meats.

5.     Opt for healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grains.

6.     Avoid Sugary drinks and energy dense foods high in sugar.

7.      Limit alcoholic drinks.

8.     Limit salty foods and foods processed with salt.

9.     Be physically active every day for at least 30 minutes.

10.   Do not use tobacco.


Starting with simple changes such as, eating one or two more servings of vegetables and fruits, switching from white bread to wholegrain bread, using herbs and spices to flavour food instead of salt, and increasing the length of your daily walk will all make a positive impact on your health.

You may have gained or lost weight during treatment. Try to get your weight to a healthy level. Talk to your doctor, dietitian or nurse about what a healthy weight is for you and the best way to go about achieving that goal weight.

If you need to gain weight, this will likely involve coming up with ways to make food more appealing and easier to eat. This may involve using high protein, high calorie foods and supplements to boost the nutritional content of your diet. Talk to a dietician who can help you devise ways to gain weight safely.

If you need to lose weight, take steps to lose weight slowly — no more than 1 kilogram (approximately 2 pounds) a week. Control the number of calories you eat and balance this with exercise.

Some patients may have been put on dietary restrictions during treatment. If this is the case with you, it is important that these restrictions are discussed with your health professional after treatment as often these restrictions can be relaxed or removed.

Nutrition after treatment is an important part in the journey of healing and survival. There is an abundance of information with ideas for staying healthy, therefore it is important to discuss your needs with your health professional or dietitian who can help create an action plan for gradual changes that are personal and fit your lifestyle preferences and doesn’t interact or interfere with any medications or on-going treatments you may be on.

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