Cancer survivors receiving treatment may experience side effects that can affect access to food and ability to eat a variety of foods, resulting in compromised nutrition status. Proper nutrition during cancer treatment is important for maximizing treatment outcomes, and caregivers can play a vital role in ensuring their loved ones are stocked with nutritious food options. As a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition, I frequently speak with caregivers about the importance of planning for good nutrition during all phases of cancer treatment and survivorship. Below are some general grocery shopping tips I share with those caring for cancer survivors that may be helpful for you:
Focus on fruits and veggies. Aim to stock up on a variety of types and colors of fruits and vegetables. These plant foods are full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber that can have a cancer-protective effect. Fresh is best, but canned and frozen products can be a convenient option. Be sure to look for lower sodium varieties of canned veggies and fruit canned in water or its own juice. Dried unsweetened fruit and 100% fruit juice are options as well. Choose organic varieties when possible to limit exposure to chemicals and pesticides. The EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and Produce features guidelines for choosing produce. Keep in mind the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure; eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.
Purchase lean sources of protein. Protein needs can increase for any cancer survivor, and it is necessary to eat adequate protein to meet requirements. Lean sources of protein are best and can include lean beef, white meat chicken, turkey, eggs, and fish. Low fat and fat free dairy products can also provide beneficial protein. Examples are fat free or skim milk, fat free or low fat yogurt, and reduced fat cheese and cottage cheese. Beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and soy products are options for plant-based sources of protein. Aim to choose organic or locally farmed meat, poultry, dairy and eggs when available.
Watch out for whole grains. Choose whole grains rather than refined grains when possible. Examples of whole grain products include oats, natural popcorn, whole grain bread, whole grain tortillas, whole grain baked pita chips, whole wheat crackers, brown rice, and whole wheat pastas. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp, 100% whole grain on the label, or whole grains as one of the first three ingredients in the ingredient list. See this post for more information on whole grains.
Pick items that can be prepared quickly. It is common for many cancer survivors to experience fatigue or other symptoms that affect one’s ability to prepare meals and snacks. Be sure to buy items that require little preparation or cooking time. Suggestions include refrigerated pasta noodles, frozen whole grain waffles, canned beans (rinse beans to decrease sodium), canned low sodium soups, nut butters, canned tuna and salmon, nitrate-free deli meats, frozen veggie burgers, pre-cooked roast chicken, protein or granola bars, hummus, milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, pre-washed dark leafy salad greens, fruit cups, and pre-cut fresh or frozen fruits and veggies.
Stock up on foods that can be eaten “on the go.” Many cancer patients require several small meals to meet nutrient needs and best manage symptoms from treatment. Stocking items that require no refrigeration and can be eaten “on the go” can be helpful. Suggestions include trail mixes, peanut butter crackers, nuts and seeds, whole wheat crackers, protein bars, dried fruit, whole grain cereal or granola, and whole fruits and raw veggies.
Don’t forget the fluids. Proper hydration is essential for any cancer patient. Water is best, however, unsweetened green tea (can be served hot or cold), low sodium broth, and 100% fruit and vegetable juices are hydrating as well. Look for beverages that are lower in sugar and do not contain artificial sweeteners.
Healthy food options are not limited to the grocery store, visit your farmer’s market to find local fruits and veggies that are in season, along with meats, dairy, and other food products. Visit the Local Harvest website to find a farmer’s market near you.
|Blog Author: Katherine T. Fowler, MS, RDN, CEDRD, LDN|