The vital role of nutrition in those fighting cancer has become more understood within the last decade. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), eating a healthy diet may help decrease the side effects of your treatment, as well as help you maintain weight and improve your strength. Additionally, some forms of cancer alter the way your body uses nutrients, including protein, fat and carbohydrates. Even if you're eating enough, the cancer may affect your body's ability to absorb the essential nutrients from the food you eat.
The nutrition needs of patients vary from person to person, depending on treatment or type of cancer. We recommend that you work with a registered dietitian that specializes in oncology nutrition to evaluate your personal needs.
Protein plays an essential role in cancer patient's diet, especially during chemo treatments. Image: Pexels
Weight loss, muscle wasting and loss of strength are incredibly common in those fighting cancer. This is due to the side effects from cancer treatment including difficulty swallowing, taste changes and dry mouth. These side effects make it difficult to consume the nutrients you need to fight, especially protein.
Protein plays an essential role in cancer patient's diet, especially during chemo treatments. Protein helps to:
- Prevent & fight infections
- Maintain weight, muscle & strength
- Support your immune system
- Build & repair damaged cells
How much more protein do cancer patients need?
All people are different, so again, it's best to consult a registered dietitian on your specific needs. However, according to the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism clinical guidelines for cancer patients published in the September 2017 issue of Clinical Nutrition, cancer patients require 0.45 grams to 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
How does this compare to protein needs in person without cancer? If you have cancer and weigh 160 pounds, it is recommended that you consume 72 to 109 grams of protein/day. By comparison, a 160-pound person without cancer only needs 58 grams of protein a day.
Ways to increase your protein intake:
Even with understanding the critical importance of protein in your diet, it can be one of the most difficult macronutrients for cancer patients to consume. The NCI includes helpful tips for increasing protein, such as eating your protein foods first, adding extra protein to your food (milk in in your hot cereal, beans on your salad) and focusing on foods with the highest protein/calorie content (yogurt, eggs, beans and meat).
You may find it easier to drink your calories. This makes smoothies and protein drinks an excellent option. The Vidafuel Wellness Protein Smoothie Shot
was developed by our dietitians to provide the highest protein content in the smallest serving size. Our Wellness Protein Smoothie Shot contains a whopping 16 grams of complete protein and all 20 amino acids in a 2oz liquid shot. It comes in two light, easy to drink flavors: Berry Delight
and Citrus Burst
. There are NO artificial sweeteners and NO artificial colors. Consuming high quality protein has never been quicker or more convenient!
If you plan to make your own smoothies, our dietitians like the smoothie recommendations below from the Cleveland Clinic
How to build your smoothie
The following combinations make about 2 servings each.
Choose your liquid
Use 2 cups of one of the liquids below:
Filtered water. A good choice for monitoring calories or making a milder tasting smoothie.
Coconut water. A natural rehydration beverage, packed with electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
Almond milk. This milk alternative is low-calorie and caffeine-free like water, but with a smooth silky texture.
Low-fat milk. A great source of electrolytes with protein added to the mix.
Fruit juice. A good choice for boosting calories or making a more robust, flavorful smoothie.
Try a mildly sweet fruit
Add 1 cup of slightly sweet, fiber-rich fruit to promote digestive health and to balance multiple flavors:
Banana. A good source of potassium for healthy blood pressure and electrolyte balance.
Ripe pear. A good source of flavonols, which are heart-healthy antioxidant plant compounds.
Mango. An excellent source of immune-boosting vitamins A and C.
Add a dark-colored fruit
Include 1 cup of dark-colored fruit to take advantage of their cancer-fighting phytochemicals. These options all have heart-healthy antioxidant plant compounds:
Berries or cherries. Good sources of anthocyanin.
Watermelon. Good source of lycopene.
Red or purple grapes. Good source of resveratrol.
Mix in some greens
Add 1 cup of tightly packed leafy greens to provide your body with B vitamins and iron to help reproduce blood cells, as well as other nutrients:
Spinach. A power veggie known for iron, but also high in potent antioxidant vitamin A.
Kale. A richly colored green and superfood high in antioxidant vitamins A and C.
Romaine lettuce. High in vitamin A and a very mild in taste, it might be an appealing option if you’ve never tried greens in a smoothie before.
Choose a protein
Try adding in some protein to stabilize your blood sugar:
Whole nuts or nut butters. Try adding 1 tablespoon of almonds, walnuts or natural peanut butter.
Greek yogurt. Use 4 ounces of unsweetened Greek yogurt for a smooth finish.
Protein powder. Add in 1/2 cup low-sugar protein powder. (Whey, hemp, rice or pea are all good options.)
Throw in some healthy fats
Did you know healthy fats help absorb nutrients as well as keep you feeling fuller, longer?
Chia or flax seeds. Spoon in 1 teaspoon of chia or flax seeds, which aid in lowering blood pressure and are loaded with antioxidants, protein, iron and calcium.
Avocado. Slice up 1 ripe avocado, which is high in oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory, as well as high in fiber.
Coconut oil. Scoop 1 tablespoon of coconut oil into your smoothie, which is known to raise good cholesterol (HDL) and aid in heart health.
Bonus calorie-boosting add-ins
If you’re looking for more ways to get your calorie count up, you can always add any of these ingredients:
Ice cream. Choose one scoop of an ice cream flavor that blends well with the other ingredients in your smoothie.
Olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon for a smoother, healthier smoothie. A drizzle a day keeps the doctor away!
Honey. A healthier alternative to most smoothie sweeteners, try adding 1 tablespoon.
Coconut cream. Another healthy fat that adds calories to your smoothie with just 1 tablespoon.
Powdered milk. A great source of vitamin E, which aids in skin, nail and hair health. Scoop in 1 tablespoon.
Have an upset stomach?
If you’re feeling nauseous or have an upset stomach from treatment, try adding in:
Plain yogurt. A good source of probiotics, which are gut-healthy bacteria.
Fresh mint. Try 4 to 6 leaves.
Freshly grated ginger. 2 teaspoons should do it.
Lemon zest. Half a teaspoon can act as a natural tummy soother.