Cancer-fighting foods definitely exist. So surely, there must be a way to combat this scary disease with just food…right? Cancer nutrition specialist Stephanie McKercher breaks down the truth of our food’s role in cancer prevention and management, and shares why we can’t believe everything we read online.
Preventing and managing cancer with nutrition is a common topic that I encounter as a nutrition expert and registered dietitian specializing in oncology. And rightfully so, as studies indicate that nutrition plays a significant role in cancer risk and outcomes. (Along with a number of lifestyle factors, what we eat has been linked with one out of every three cases of the disease.)
A balanced eating pattern that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean proteins like legumes and seafood (along with regular physical activity and adequate stress management) has been shown to help reduce cancer risk in a number of studies. These foods are thought to help fend off the disease because they’re rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, immune boosters, and that mighty yet underappreciated little thing called fiber, which helps promote optimal digestion and detoxification.
Beyond fighting off free radicals and inflammation, optimal nutrition can actually help cancer patients get through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical procedures while maintaining vitality and a high quality of life.
A qualified nutrition expert who is part of a cancer patient’s health care can help manage common cancer treatment side effects like decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, neuropathy (numbness and tingling in hands and feet), mucositis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract), and taste changes.
This means fewer dose reductions – and a higher chance of treatment effectiveness.
Proper nutrition (including adequate energy and protein) can also help a cancer patient prevent and manage the oft-feared disease-related weight loss that is known as “muscle wasting” or “cancer cachexia.” Good nutrition will fuel a cancer patient for the tough healing and rebuilding phase that follows cancer-related surgeries.
It’s safe to say that the food we eat plays a significant role in cancer risk reduction and management. But – and I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here – food alone is not going to cure your cancer.
No matter what the online nutrition guru told you.
Your cancer treatment plan is 100% your own personal decision – I would never take that away from you – but please be certain that you are making an informed decision.
Trust me, there is nobody else in the world that would be more excited to learn that food could completely cure cancer. I’d be shouting it from the rooftops…handing out acai berries on the sidewalk. I would be ecstatic but, especially when cancer has spread to other areas (metastasized) or your oncologist has recommended conventional treatments (like chemotherapy or radiation), a kale smoothie won’t likely cut it.
Don’t get me wrong, nutrition is one of the greatest ways that we can support and nourish ourselves every single day.
It is something that we will always be able to take control over, no matter the health obstacles that might come our way. After a cancer diagnosis, having a lifestyle plan in place can be really empowering.
But here’s the thing…
Modern medicine has made technological and pharmaceutical advancements that are more powerful than a serving of broccoli could ever be.
Chemotherapy works. So does radiation. And surgery too.
There are certain times (such as after a serious cancer diagnosis) that we need to remember that we don’t necessarily need to choose one or the other.
We can use both modern medicine and supportive therapies like nutrition, exercise, and meditation to really hit cancer from all angles. We can have it all.
So, please, enjoy your green juice and goji berries, but also remember that, when it comes to cancer treatment and survival, your conventional oncologist has a whole lot to bring to the table too.
DON’T ALLOW ANY ONLINE “GURUS” TO CONVINCE YOU OTHERWISE.
- Anand P, Kunnumakara AB, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research. 2008;25(9):2097-2116. doi:10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9.
- Donaldson MS. Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition Journal. 2004;3:19. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-19.
- Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Management and Research. 2011;3:1-8. doi:10.2147/CMR.S6910.
- Joseph K, Vrouwe S, Kamruzzaman A, et al. Outcome analysis of breast cancer patients who declined evidence-based treatment. World Journal of Surgical Oncology. 2012;10:118. doi:10.1186/1477-7819-10-118.
HEADER IMAGE: VANJA TERZIC
Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN is a Boulder, CO-based private practice dietitian creating delicious recipes and promoting a world where we all truly love nourishing whole foods. Inspired by her past experiences working in an integrative cancer center, Steph shares with her clients a loving environment that focuses on mindful eating, holistic wellness, and cancer nutrition. To fall in love with healthy eating with a little help from Steph, visit The Grateful Grazer.