Diet for cancer: what is healthy?
In the case of cancer, the body needs a special, balanceddiet. What cancer patients should pay attention to Susanne Weg-Remers from theCancer Information Service
Healthy and tasty: A balanced diet is especially important for cancer
How should cancer patients feed the best?
During cancer therapy, patients with underweight or imminent malnutrition are treated specifically. All other patients need about the same amount of energy as healthy, but in a slightly different composition: They should, for example, eat more protein than healthy: Instead of at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day, it should be 1.2 to 1.5 grams , in poor nutritional status even up to 2 grams. Because tumor patients have an increased protein turnover and otherwise may lose muscle .
In addition, cancer patients should consume more carbohydrates than healthy people – 60 instead of 50 percent of the energy consumed daily. The need for nutrients and vitamins, however, also depends on the type of tumor, the age and physical activity of the patient, so that it is usually not possible to give blanket recommendations.
Do cancer patients need special vitamin supplements?
Additional vitamins usually need at most patients who have a clinically proven vitamin deficiency. This may for example be the case in patients who had to be completely or partially removed due to a tumor disease of the stomach. Among other things, they can not absorb enough vitamin B12 . Cancer patients without vitamin deficiency we recommend no dietary supplements. Not only are they unnecessary – additional vitamins can even be harmful. Instead, eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
What about individual foods that are supposed to help with cancer, like broccoli or sea fish?
When reports that fat fish, broccoli , soy or other food helps against cancer , you should be careful. Because a one-sided diet is definitely not recommended and can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Of course, for example, fish is generally healthy and a good source of protein, a good substitute for meat. The German Nutrition Society recommends eating red meat and sausages only in small quantities, as larger amounts can increase the risk of cancer.
Generally we recommend – as well as the German Society of Nutritional Medicine – no special cancer diets. Because for none of the numerous diets that are proposed by different sides, an effectiveness is proven. Attempts to “starve” the cancer by using a strict diet are not advisable and can be harmful.
Even overweight should not starve during therapy. Your body then needs all its energy to fight the cancer and put away the side effects of the treatment. Only after completion of the initial treatment, for example in rehab , should they start to lose weight. This is especially important for certain cancers. For example, the risk of relapse in breast cancer is reduced by losing weight and a reduced-fat, fiber-rich diet.
Are there special cancer diets?
Why do not many patients manage to absorb enough energy?
In cancer, different problems can occur: loss of appetite is a common complication. In that case, it makes sense for the patient to eat well and, above all, eat what he likes best. But also appetite-enhancing drugs can help.
Chemo- or radiotherapy may lead to inflammation of the mucous membranes, which makes it difficult to eat. In addition, nausea and vomiting may occur. All of these can cause nutrient uptake problems. Appropriate drugs can help against nausea, with nutrient deficiency, there is additional supplemental food.
Cachexia is the name given when metabolic changes through the tumor itself lead to wasting and the patient greatly decreases. An increased food intake then usually does not help – often a nutritional therapy is necessary.
When is the weight loss so severe that it needs to be treated?
The nutritional status of each patient should be checked every four to six weeks at admission to the clinic and during treatment. Malnutrition threatens when the BMI is below 18.5 or the patient has recently lost more than 10 percent of his weight without his intervention. It is also true for people with BMI under 20 who have recently lost more than 5 percent. Especially before a major surgery, a patient should be sufficiently nourished. In case of imminent or existing malnutrition, diet therapy can help. It is also ordered by doctors when it is foreseeable that the patient will not be able to eat regularly for five to seven days because of a planned operation.
How exactly does a nutritional therapy look like?
The doctor follows a step-by-step procedure: First, he prescribes nutritional counseling, where the patient learns how to cover his calorie need and what he should pay attention to. If this fails, the doctor will recommend food fortification next. The patient stirs high-energy powder under his food or supplements it with drinking food. In some cancers, swallowing is difficult or their digestion is impaired. Then they can be fed using a probe. If this is not enough or not possible, the doctor can administer a nutrient solution via a vein.
Why is nutritional counseling so important in the beginning?
Cancer patients should be able to eat normally if at all possible, nutritional therapy should, if necessary, be just a supplement. In general, a balanced diet is particularly important for cancer. However, we often observe that many people are not sure what they mean by it. Therefore, the nutritional advice by a qualified specialist makes sense in any case. It is usually paid for cancer patients by the health insurance and offered according to medical prescription, for example in the tumor centers.
During cancer treatment, patients should definitely be careful to eat with pleasure. There’s no point in resisting everything in order to literally starve the tumor. Instead, sufferers should treat themselves to a piece of cake. This is an important piece of quality of life that you should not miss.