September 23, 2023

Nutrition Is Key Weapon in Battling Cancer

Jan. 11, 2015

When it comes to the best foods to help you avoid cancer, it’s no surprise that the list includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. The list is similar for people who already have cancer, but with one important consideration. Sometimes people need to eat anything that’s appealing and doesn’t make them sick.

"The goal is to maintain weight," said Laurel Najarian, a dietician with the oncology program at Munson Medical Center. "We want them to eat as healthy a diet as possible given the challenges."

Those challenges can be daunting. Many who endure chemotherapy or radiation treatment lose their appetite or develop sores that make chewing or swallowing difficult and painful. Others find it a feat to keep anything down. At this level, it’s a matter of encouraging them to eat whatever they can and filling the gaps with nutritional supplements like Boost or Ensure.

Experts say the ideal diet should include lean protein, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Rather than looking at food groups or the food pyramid, Kathy Gowell-Hansen discusses the choices in terms of a rainbow of colors: green, red, orange, purple.

"We like to see people get [their nutrition] from real foods," said Gowell-Hansen, an oncology dietician with McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey. "Squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, berries, dark red and green [fruits and vegetables]. They contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Mother Nature puts the program together quite well."

Sherry Davis is a certified instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes preventive medicine and highlights the connections between diet and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

Davis recommends diets that are high in fiber and low in fat.

"Fiber removes extra estrogen and cholesterol," she said. "Estrogen is a growth hormone and high fiber diets may help pull that out [of the body]."

Additionally, fiber may help prevent colon cancer and build one’s immune system.

The Physicians Committee also recommends a vegetarian, or even vegan, diet to help prevent and battle cancer.

"You should eat a generous variety of fruits and vegetables," Davis said. "You need the different colors."

Food safety is another concern. Those suffering, and recovering, from cancer have compromised immune systems. This means bacteria that a healthy body could easily fight off become more problematic.

"You want to avoid buffets. Wash your fruits and vegetables," said Melissa Jaskowski, another McLaren oncology dietitian. "If there’s any doubt, such as damaged foods or canned goods, products past their expiration dates or anything that looks or smells suspicious, then stay away from them."

According to the American Cancer Society, some reports indicate that green tea may have the ability to help prevent numerous cancers: skin, colon, pancreas, lung, prostate and breast, among others. Green tea contains chemicals called polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. Green tea and extracts of its leaves are also used to treat stomach problems, vomiting and diarrhea.

Many laboratory studies have shown that green tea acts against cancer cells in cell cultures, but results of studies in humans have been mixed.

Angela Macke is a registered nurse who owns and operates Light of Day Organics, an organic tea farm west of Traverse City.

"Green tea demonstrates effective anti inflammatory effects," said Macke. "It can result in both a cancer-preventative and wellness approach, and pain-relieving measures for those already undergoing treatment."

Experts concur that avoiding processed foods and concentrating on whole grains, richly-colored fruits and vegetables, and healthy oils such as canola and olive will not only help stave off cancer, but will also keep heart disease and other debilitating illnesses at bay.

Once someone is diagnosed with cancer, the strategy may change as the patient’s tastes change. While someone might have loved broccoli, a so-called super food, before their illness, now the mere smell of it may make them feel sick.

"Taste changes or they may be too tired to eat," said Jaskowski.

Patients may say the food has no taste or tastes metallic. Sometimes simply switching to plastic silverware may help.

Other patients deal with constipation or diarrhea, both of which can prevent someone from eating properly. Filling the gaps with everything from applesauce to protein shakes and smoothies can help.

Finding the best, most palatable, foods for battling cancer and the side effects of treatment may be an ongoing experiment with shifting results.

"Cancers are so different," Najarian said.

"Every patient is different. I think every patient should have a nutritional consult."

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to help reduce your risk of cancer is to eat a healthy, organic, whole foods diet packed with the nutrients needed to maintain a strong immune system which is your fi rst line of defense against cancer. Try these easy tips to better eating and better health.


Processed, highly refi ned foods such as sugars, trans-fats, excess calories and chemicals are taxing to the body and can lead to disease.


Organically grown foods can reduce your risk for cancer and other health issues by reducing your exposure to harmful herbicides, pesticides, GMOs, growth hormones and antibiotics often used in non-organic food production.


Fruits and vegetables are loaded with powerful antioxidants, vitamins and other compounds needed to destroy free radicals and repair cell damage so load up your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables at every meal.


Include whole foods like citrus, berries, broc coli, tomatoes, and collards (and not just juice.) Whole foods are nutrient-dense giving you more bang for your buck. MAKE FIBER YOUR FRIEND Fiber keeps your digestive tract in good working order so you can rid your body of toxins including cancer causing compounds. Great sources of fi ber are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds like chia or fl ax.


Dark leafy greens like kale, chard, collards and spinach contain vitamins A and C, minerals such as calcium and magnesium, antioxidants, nutrients that are all needed for optimum health.


Essential fatty acids aid in the production of hormones and are integral to optimal cell health. Great sources of Omega-3 fats are salmon, tuna or sardines, nuts and seeds like walnuts or hemp or, a daily dose of Cod liver oil with vitamins A & D.


Add 1-2 oz. of cultured vegetables to your dinner plate. Cultured or fermented foods are rich in probiotics and help support a strong immune system by repopulating your gut with beneficial bacteria. A strong immune system is important in the fight against cancer.


Avoid highly processed vegetable oils and trans-fats from partially hydrogenated oils. Trans-fats can damage cell walls leading to infl ammation and an increased risk of cancer. Switch from these to olive oil, coconut oil, or butter from grass fed organic animals.

GO NUTS! Nuts contain a powerful antioxidant called quercetin that can suppress the growth of cancer cells.

Tips provided compliments of Oryana Natural Foods


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