Nutrition plays an important role in your overall health, especially during cancer treatment. What you eat can help or hurt your recovery and how you feel during and after treatment. Cancer treatments can be rough on your body and cause side effects that change what you’re able to eat, according to the American Cancer Society. Choosing heart healthy foods that build up your body and work with your treatments can help you reduce and overcome challenges.
What you should eat depends on the type of cancer you have and your treatment regimen. You may need more fat or protein to maintain your weight, or you may need to avoid certain foods or herbs that can interfere with your medications. Sometimes swallowing becomes difficult, so you need to rely on things like smoothies and blended soups. Your doctor can work with you or refer you to a nutritionist to develop a plan tailored to your specific needs.
Many foods the American Heart Association (AMA) recommends as part of a heart healthy diet can also help you through cancer treatment by providing your body with necessary nutrients, while lessening the discomfort of some side effects.
Chicken and Fish
Protein and fat are important parts of maintaining your weight, energy and health throughout cancer treatment. Chicken and fish are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than red meat, making them better for your heart. The AMA also recommends fish because its unsaturated fats and Omega-3s can lower your risk of heart disease. Keep the skin off the chicken and choose grilled or baked meat over fried to maximize benefits.
Fruits and vegetables are always recommended as part of a healthy diet, and are essential during cancer treatment — however, some varieties can worsen symptoms like diarrhea or gas. Carrots are a generally safe choice. They are rich in vitamins A, C and K, and they’re packed with antioxidants and fiber, which are important to heart health, according to the Mayo Clinic. This mild vegetable is flexible and can be incorporated in your diet in a way that works with your limitations. Eat them raw, steamed, blended in a smoothie, juiced or pureed in soup.
This is another versatile food with excellent nutritional value. You get protein and fiber, and you can choose from fat-free, low-fat or whole milk depending on your needs. Research published by Springer shows that dairy products like yogurt protect against heart disease — even the full-fat varieties. As another bonus, yogurt has all those live active cultures inside. These cultures boost your gut bacteria, which is incredibly important to restoring your overall health. You can use yogurt to soften foods, substitute it for sour cream on a baked potato or try it as a base for smoothies. One tip to remember: Study the ingredients. Look for brands with lower sugar content, and real fruit inside. Avoid artificial flavorings, colors and sweeteners.
Nuts are a great snack to carry around for a quick pick-me-up. The protein, unsaturated (“good”) fats and fiber can help you combat fatigue and constipation. They’re easy to pack for a snack and can help you maintain weight. You can also opt for quality nut butters, (preferably ones without added sugar). In addition to fat and fiber, the Mayo Clinic points out that nuts have Omega-3s, vitamin E and L-arginine, which help reduce risk factors that can lead to heart attack or stroke.