Why Is Food Important?
Quite simply, the food you eat affects how you feel. A healthy diet can help you feel better, regain your strength and energy, and reduce risks for health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. But before making any big changes to your diet, check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any food or dietary restrictions.
It Isn’t Always Easy to Make Healthy Choices
Eating a healthy diet can be hard. You may be nauseated or not feel hungry. You may notice changes in the way some foods taste, especially if you’re taking certain medicines. You may also have to avoid certain foods.
For many cancer survivors, caregivers, and their loved ones, balancing the need to eat differently with the demands of the rest of the household may feel overwhelming. People may be busy or on different schedules. Not everyone may agree with a new, healthier approach to eating. And it may be hard to find or afford healthier options.
- When they’re on sale, stock up on canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, especially ones that are low in salt and sugar.
- Start a vegetable garden. It’s a great way to get outside, get some exercise, and involve the whole family. Some vegetables, like tomatoes and bell peppers, grow easily in a container on a balcony or patio.
- Consider replacing a meat-based meal with a vegetarian one a few days a week. Try adding peas or beans as a protein substitute.
- Freeze leftovers.
Tips for Healthy Eating
Here are some steps you can take to overcome challenges. Try the ones that make sense for you, and don’t feel you need to do them all at once! It’s all about baby steps.
- Keep track of what you eat. Use a notebook or an app to write down what and how much you eat.
- Ask your doctor what you can’t eat with medicines you take or allergies you have.
- Try to eat meals at the same time every day. When your body gets used to eating at the same time, you’ll be able to manage how much you eat better.
- If you’re having trouble regaining your appetite, start with small meals of your favorite foods.
- Try healthier versions of your favorite recipes. Many healthy and easy-to-follow recipes are available online.
- When you’re able to eat more foods, try to fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables. The other half of your plate can be a mix of lean proteins and whole grains.
- Think of sugar-sweetened food and drinks and alcohol as treats for special occasions.
If you don’t have the time or energy to shop for groceries or cook every day, these tips can make things easier.
- If you can afford it, go out to eat or order pickup or delivery service from a local restaurant. Many restaurants include nutritional information about their menu online, which can help you plan.
- Look for meal delivery programs in your area. Some organizations deliver groceries or prepared meals to people with health issues.
- Explore a meal subscription service, if it fits into your budget.
- Order your groceries online. Many supermarkets offer pickup or delivery.
- Ask for help. Can someone in your household take over or help with cooking? Is a friend or neighbor willing to pick things up when they go out? People want to help, but they may not know what you want.
- Reach out to organizations that offer help.
- Involve family members in meal planning and preparation.
- Set aside one day to prepare meals for the week.
How to Get Your Doctor Involved
When you visit your doctor, ask for healthy eating advice. First, think about your goals. Do you want to feel more energetic? Are any side effects bothering you? Do you want to gain or lose weight?
Write down questions as you think of them. Some examples—
- Are there foods I should avoid because they may interfere with my medicines or cause side effects?
- Does the cancer or treatment I had affect my appetite?
- Can you recommend a specialist or resource, online or in the community, to help me make dietary changes?
How Your Care Team Can Help You
Your oncologist or primary care doctor may be able to refer you to a nutritionist or dietician. You can also check with the social services division of area hospitals and health departments. In addition, a social worker or case manager can help set up financial assistance or a food delivery program.
A specialist can also help you—
- Involve your family or loved ones in making healthy choices.
- Make healthy choices on a budget.
- Find local transportation or food delivery services.
- CDC’s Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight website provides helpful information, tips, and recipes.
- The American Cancer Society’s Eat Healthy page explains how to choose foods for a well-balanced meal plan.
- In the “Talk to Someone” simulation, Linda, a cancer survivor, gives advice on physical activity and nutrition. You can choose different options to get answers to your questions about making healthy choices.
- The American Heart Association offers simple, healthy, and affordable recipes.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help you find a nutrition expert.
- The National Cancer Institute’s Nutrition in Cancer Care page explains how cancer treatments can affect nutrition.