“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” —Hippocrates

Do you live to eat or do you eat to live? This is an important question. The typical American diet consists of foods high in calories and low in nutrients. Our diet contains excessive amounts of sugar, preservatives, fats, salt, and toxins. We consume a lot of empty calories. Chemicals and additives tax our immune system, and make just clearing our bodies of foreign toxins difficult. Poor nutrition can cause fatigue, headaches, colds, flu and it may lead to many other illnesses as well, including obesity, hypertension, anxiety, memory problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about half of cancer deaths could be prevented if people practiced healthy lifestyle habits—stop smoking, increase exercise, eat a well balanced diet, and have proper screenings. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that approximately 80% of all cancer patients are malnourished, and 20% to 40% of patients die not from the cancer but from complications associated with malnutrition.

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Many educational courses, diets, and books are available on this subject. All cancer patients are encouraged to see a certified nutritionist who is schooled in the nutritional needs of patients with cancer. They can coach patients in proper nutrition and food preparation. They also offer many food- and nutrition-related suggestions for dealing with the medical complications of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. When the body is afflicted with cancer, building the body up with good “food as medicine” is most important. Protein is very important for rebuilding the body.

Good nutrition means foods that nourish. Diets heavy in refined flours, sugars, preservatives, and chemicals affect our health. Unhealthy fats increase inflammation and can lead to malignancy and/or recurrence. A diet that is rich in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and high-protein plant foods may help prevent recurrences and aid in overall health.

Cut down on sugar intake. The average American consumes 20 to 30 teaspoons (about half a cup) of sugar a day. Sugar stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Its effect on the body is similar to alcohol, cocaine, and other addictive drugs.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Patients should choose fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors; they should aim for a rainbow of colors. Each color offers unique benefits. Patients should be encouraged to buy “live” foods, not “dead” or packaged foods that have added chemicals and preservatives. By shopping the perimeter of the store, not the aisles, they will be avoiding most of the packaged foods sold in the supermarkets.

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Patients should be encouraged to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Let the plate be a rainbow of different colored food choices. Be sure to wash fruits and vegetables well. Many contain pesticides that are carcinogenic and toxic to the body. Organic foods are best. Cancer patients who have trouble eating should eat smaller portion sizes. They can always go back for more. Sometimes serving food on a smaller plate is better.

High-quality proteins are very important. They help rebuild body tissues and the immune system. Beans, legumes, fish, and nuts are good sources of protein and essential in an anticancer diet. Organic hormone-free chicken, beef, and pork are also vital to increasing cell and muscle growth. Green fruits and vegetables create alkalinity and help combat acidity; cancer thrives in an acid environment. Red meat consumption should be limited. Master the grill. Be careful when grilling meat, charring and grilling meat to well done can be carcinogenic. Fish is a good source of Omega 3, and wild-caught fish is best. Most farm-raised fish are fed foods containing additional hormones and additives.

Many herbs and spices have anticancer properties. Numerous studies have shown that turmeric, flax seed, and cinnamon have positive effects on patients undergoing cancer treatment. Patients should grind flax seed before using it.

Numerous studies have proven that green tea is beneficial for cancer patients, and many patients take green tea supplements. Ginger tea is good for controlling nausea. Patients with cancer should reduce their alcohol consumption. Studies show that cancer risk and recurrence are increased with alcohol consumption. Hydration is also very important. Recommendations suggest that patients consume water instead of sodas and sports drinks. Adding a slice of orange, lemon, or other fruit or cucumber to water can enhance the flavor and encourage more water consumption.

Patients who want desserts and sweets can have a small piece of dark chocolate. It has some properties that help fight cancer. However, fresh fruits are a better choice and provide natural sweetness.

Resent studies suggest cancer patients should boost their vitamin D intake. This can be achieved by getting some fresh air and sunshine and eating more fruits and vegetables, in addition to taking supplements. Balancing caloric intake with physical activity is very important. The next column will feature ways to increase your exercise. There are many fun ways to get off the couch and start moving.

Linda McDonald lives in Sarasota, Florida. You can e-mail her with your thoughts and ideas at [email protected].