How Nutrition Links With Cancer

Nutrition plays a huge role in everyone’s lives and we have partnered with Toral Shah, an expert in post cancer nutrition, both personally and professionally, to give you advice on what you should eat, things to avoid and how to incorporate good nutrition into your lives.

Cancer interacts with nutrition in a number of ways and a number of international cancer guidelines recommend a healthy diet for those who have experienced cancer. Nutrition is important in terms of preventing cancers as obesity can increase your risk of developing the most common cancers. Nutrition also plays a big part in survival as both obesity and the quality of your diet have been shown to influence your lifespan after cancer.

Thriving through cancer is also about your quality of life and feeling energised has a lot to do with how you fuel your body. Eating well throughout the cancer journey is a great way to do this and doesn’t have to be expensive.

Please take note that if you are neutropenic there are certain foods that you need to avoid. For more information follow this link.

This section gives you the knowledge and skills to maintain a healthy and balanced diet and to help boost your bodies natural immune defences. We will also be talking about any nutritional deficiencies you may now face due to your cancer treatment and how to best add these things to your diet in a natural way. We will also talk about what role supplements and additives may have. Having enough energy and nutrients is important to let you do the things you want and achieve your goals.

Top 5 Facts

  1. Macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) are required by our bodies in large quantities and supply us with energy.

  2. Proteins are known as the building blocks of life. After water, your body is made up of mainly protein.

  3. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source – particularly for our brain.

  4. Fat is necessary for tissue growth and repair, to maintain healthy cell membranes, to regulate temperature and brain function and production of hormones

  5. You should eat a balanced diet made up of proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates, healthy fats and plenty of water.

Basics of nutrition

What is energy balance? 

Energy balance is the amount of energy consumed versus the amount of energy expended.  We gain weight when intake is greater than expenditure, and we lose weight when intake is less than expenditure.

The energy consumed comes from the food we eat in the form of macronutrients (components of food needed in large amounts): carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Alcohol can also contribute to energy intake but certainly isn’t considered an important nutrient!  The amount of energy provided by food is measured in calories.  Per gram, carbohydrates and protein provide 4kcal, fat 9kcal and alcohol 7kcal.  The food we chose to eat determines how much energy we consume. 

We use up energy during basic physiological processes (such as respiration; digestion and metabolism) and during physical activity.  We can influence our energy expenditure by increasing the amount of exercise we do. 

When we talk about energy requirements, we are referring to the amount of food needed to maintain body size, body composition and good health.  

How does our body use nutrients?

Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace elements are all nutrients required by our bodies to function properly.  We can obtain all the nutrients we need by eating a variety of foods from all the food groups. You can read more about this in the healthy eating section. 

Our body needs calories in order to stay alive.  These calories can be found in every food and drink, with some being more energy dense than others.  We need to make sure that the food and drink we consume provides not only calories but a variety of vitamins and minerals too.  For instance, sweets provide lots of calories and sugar but little else.  Sometimes we refer to these as ‘empty calories.’  

Vitamins and minerals don’t provide energy but are vital for certain processes to take place within our bodies.  For instance, thiamine (Vit B1) is essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and vitamin K is involved in blood clotting.   Vitamins can be either fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) or water-soluble (the B vitamins and vitamin C).  Examples of minerals include calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.    

Why is a healthy diet important? 

We now know that having a healthy diet and weight can counteract some of the adverse effects of cancer treatment and possibly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.  Eating well also reduces the chance of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It can also improve your mood.

Eating healthily doesn’t mean having to cut out entire food groups, going organic or never eating cake again. It’s about choosing the food you enjoy and eating them in the right amounts.  Our diet is made up of five food groups, all of which contain different nutrients which is why it’s important to get the balance right.  Each food group is discussed in its own section, but to get you started, have a look at the following pointers for eating healthily: 

  • Have a diet high in vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses and whole grains 
  • Eat more fish: aim for 2 portions a week (1 oily, 1 white)
  • Reduce your intake of saturated fat and sugar
  • Watch out for salt - try to have as little as possible and no more than 6g a day, which is the equivalent of a teaspoon
  • Try to cook more meals yourself rather than rely on takeaways and convenience foods
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Try to limit your intake of red meat and meat products
  • Drink plenty of fluids - the non-sugary, non-alcoholic kind!