By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD
When an individual is diagnosed with cancer, he or she would naturally adapt some lifestyle modification, which includes diet. The family members also try their best to show their support by providing all kinds of food that they deem nutritious and anti-cancer.
Because there is so much information readily available online with just one click, it tends to get confusing. Which tip should one follow in order to prevent and fight cancer? Should someone with cancer become vegan? Are antioxidants and supplements helpful or pose more harm during cancer treatment? Should meat be totally removed from one’s diet? The questions are endless.
Frustration is not uncommon especially when one begins to avoid so many food items and often find themselves left with limited food choices, which not only compromise nutrition but quality of life as well.
Dr. Denky Dela Rosa, a cancer specialist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City and an associate professor at UERM in Quezon City, sheds some light on the issue of what to eat to beat cancer.
“The most common question that patients ask me when they are diagnosed with cancer is ‘What should I eat?’ and the underlying tone of that question is: What should I eat to zap away the cancer?” says Dr. Denky.
The cancer specialist is set to correct misconceptions about simply adding cancer fighting food and taking supplements to arm us in the fight against cancer. “It’s not just about adding cancer fighting food or taking the supplements, it’s about taking a look at the whole diet. For example, if what we eat consists mostly of fast food, instant noodles, canned goods, boxed foods, tocino, longganisa, bacon, sugary beverages such as iced teas or fruit juice from concentrates that are loaded with tons and tons of sugar, then simply adding cancer fighting food or taking the supplements will not be enough,” says Dr. Denky.
It just goes to show that we cannot solely rely on supplements to keep us cancer free. If you must take supplements, make sure they are prescribed by your physician or dietitian and they must be taken together with a well-balanced diet that is suited to your lifestyle and nutritional requirements. A little bit of caution on those undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Taking antioxidant supplementation may even be detrimental to your condition as it may decrease the potency of chemotherapeutic drugs.
Whether you have cancer or any other lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, gout, PCOS, hypertension, heart disease, the optimal diet is essentially the same. Dr. Denky describes this diet as composed of mostly plant foods such as unprocessed vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, beans, healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, coconut milk, and olive oil. Sugary beverages must be avoided, as well as, processed meats and fried food.
“Our plate should ideally contain two-thirds or more of vegetables, some whole grains or beans and one-third or less of animal protein. Remember the good fats!” advised Dr. Denky.
The cancer specialist also encourages everyone to read nutrition labels and list of ingredients. Stay away from trans-fats and anything that has hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
As for protein consumption and cancer, Dr. Denky clarifies that regardless of the protein source, whether fish, chicken, pork, or beef, too much consumption of animal protein is not good. For those who have totally removed animal protein from their diet, it is important to watch the carbohydrate intake as it may increase blood glucose level, especially among individuals with diabetes.
Dr. Denky gave a warning to all who have turned their backs on animal protein: “Be careful about meat substitutes, especially vegemeats. Not all vegemeats are made from whole plants. Some of them are made from isolated plant proteins and may contain added oils and chemicals that can make them as bad as processed meats.”
Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be overwhelming and Dr. Denky leaves us with this practical tip: “Don’t expect to be able to change everything overnight. I recommend you adapt one change at a time such as cutting down on sugary drinks or added sugar. Consume a cup of vegetables per day. The key is to be consistent and persistent. Lastly, we will all slide back. Don’t worry. There is no competition. It’s okay to start all over again.”