Dietician Anna Loeto on healthy eating habits for cancer survivors

Nutrition is the foundation of the human body and plays a key role in cancer prevention, effective management and prevention of relapse. Registered Dietician at Bamalete Lutheran Hospital, Anna Loeto discusses how cancer patients can eat themselves to better health after diagnosis, during and after treatment. What are the key nutrients someone being treated for breast cancer for example needs? Micronutrients daily needs increase in all types of cancers. It is important to note that healthy cells and cancer cells both compete for the nutrients an individual feeds on daily .Patients need to get essential nutrients for example, proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and water. Some nutrient needs may increase significantly if the patient develops a deficiency or becomes malnourished for example, iron in anaemia; protein and energy in malnutrition. Generally a diet high in whole grains, fruit and vegetables is recommended. Are there any foods one should avoid totally, during and after cancer treatment? (If yes name a few) It will depend on the type of Cancer, symptoms experienced, organ affected as well as the type of treatment.  For example, a pancreatic cancer patient may need to avoid fatty, greasy fried foods. Generally foods that are not advisable to eat during and after cancer treatment, include sugar, sweetened foods and drinks, soy (soya) and all soy products because of the presence of phytoestrogen, cured meats such as sausages, smokies, bacon and ham because of presence of nitrites and sodium benzoate, which are classified as carcinogens. Commercial juices, tomato sauce, and foods that are high in glycemic index highly-processed foods and alcohol must be avoided. Also limit red meat and avoid high heat cooking methods (especially that gets food charred) for example, braai/barbecuing, smoking and grilling. How does hormone therapy affect one’s diet, including weight gain and the psychological effects it could cause? One of the side effects of hormonal therapy is weight gain because weight management is controlled by hormones. Working closely with a nutritionist and a fitness professional helps the individual to eat the required amounts of calories per day. Furthermore, it may cause Diarrhoea, Constipation, Nausea and Loss of appetite which will affect one’s dietary intake. One is encouraged to see a Dietitian if weight gain becomes an issue. It may cause mood changes or even depression. If this is the case, one is advised to seek counseling.How does Chemo affect one’s diet and how can a Nutritionist/ Dietitian help a survivor handle this? Chemo can cause nutrition related side effects such as Nausea, Vomiting, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, taste and smell changes and others, which all affect dietary intake. A Dietitian can help: •prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies •Maintain body weight •Minimise nutrition related side effects •Maximise quality of life