Recently, while awaiting an appointment with a radiation oncologist at the Holy Cross in Calgary, I began reading through a free booklet titled: “Eating Well When You Have Cancer” issued by the Canadian Cancer Society. My first thought with a strong tone of sarcasm was…hmm, this ought to be good! Given my personal experience with medical doctors basically offering next to no proper guidance on nutrition that supports a successful cancer journey, my expectations were very low as to what I was about to read. However, to my surprise the pamphlet actually contained some valuable information. Having said that, there were certainly some content that I disagreed with and/or would add to.

The booklet begins by sharing why eating well is important. Check! “Eating well…can give you energy, help you feel better and keep your body strong. It can help you cope with side effects during treatment. And it can help you heal and recover after treatment.” Very useful guidance to remind us how our bodies need good food to keep up our strength. In their view, this is mainly so that you may cope effectively with the debilitating effects of treatment.

Whether you have chosen traditional allopathic treatment or not, there are a few things that I would assert relating to the content to support an even better and supportive experience.

Choose foods that are alkalizing versus acidic…

When our bodies are in a state of acidity, it is the ideal breading ground for illness and disease. Clearly something that one wants to avoid when already facing a cancer diagnosis. There are many foods that lead to a state of acidity including processed foods, alcohol, milk, caffeine, and white carbs such as rice and pasta. The goal should be to consume nutrient-rich foods that keep the body in a state of alkalinity. Foods that support this include things like dark leafy vegetables, lemons/limes, legumes, and some fruits. There are many resources available that offer guidance on which foods are alkalizing or acidic. The book: “Alkalize or Die” by Dr. Theodore Baroody offers some good information on the subject.

Boost your immune system…

With respect to this topic, the guide says: “Many people wonder whether eating specific foods will boost their immune system and help them fight cancer. It’s important to know that no single diet, food or supplement can boost your immune system…” To this, I have to disagree. There is significant research available to suggest the contrary. I have literally not had the flu or a full-fledged cold coming on 6 years which I believe is the result of consuming supplements and teas that are said to support a strong immune system. Some of my go-to products include Juice Plus+ (a daily dose of 17 different fruits and vegetables), Vitamin D3 with K2, medicinal mushrooms (reishi, chaga), lypospheric Vitamin C, blue-green algae, chlorella, and probiotics to name a few.

Take in lots of fluid…

It is true that drinking lots of fluids is crucial for health in that it hydrates the cells and also helps to flush out toxins. The guide supports this notion of getting in plenty of fluids, however, I have to disagree with a couple of points…

“Instead of coffee, tea, or sodas, choose water, juice and milk or milk alternatives…” — True, coffee, tea, and sodas should be avoided as they are dehydrating for the body (not to mention, acidic). But, milk is also a beverage that I would avoid. Dairy products are acidic and they also can contribute to inflammation in the body, which is conductive to the development of illness. Who needs more of that when one is already dealing with cancer? Further, the booklet adds that “…some foods provide fluids as well. These include soups, popsicles, gelatin desserts, pudding, ice cream, and sherbet…” Ever heard that sugar feeds cancer? There is plenty of research out there that advises anyone with cancer to steer clear of anything with refined sugar so choosing sugary foods such as puddings and popsicles is probably NOT the best choice when it comes to hydration.

When it comes to alcohol, best to avoid entirely. Alcohol is acidic, contains high amounts of sugar, and suppresses the immune system. The booklet does not take a hard line on this, but I think it is imperative to eliminate this entirely from the diet.

Most important is to drink pure, clean WATER…and LOTS of it. I would recommend at a minimum getting a drinking water filter to at least eliminate chlorine and fluoride from city tap water.

Getting enough calories…

There is a section in the booklet that offers how to add calories to meals and snacks. This may be necessary if someone is losing weight, has low appetite, and is finding it challenging to keep up their strength. I am agreed that adding things like avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters (except peanut butter), olive oil, granola, and some honey and dried fruit are good choices. However, it would NOT be my recommendation to add dairy products such as milk, sour cream, whipping cream, margarine, hard cheese, and cream cheese or sweets such as jam, sugar, and syrups as suggested by the Canadian Cancer Society.

The booklet also advises about getting enough protein by adding things such as nuts and seeds, legumes, and soy beverages. It also suggest some options that again, I would suggest NOT incorporating such as cheese, milk, yogurt, meat, and eggs. Some of the BEST sources of protein out there are dark green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli. One is much better off adding these items to their diet especially since they bring the added benefit of being alkalizing as well as nutrient-dense. Those with hormone-sensitive cancers should also be careful of soy containing products because of the impact on estrogen-levels.

Commercial nutrition supplements when you just can’t eat…

Although this hasn’t been my experience so much, I do understand that for some a lack of appetite can be a real problem when undergoing cancer treatment. The booklet recommends consuming commercial nutrition supplements such as a product called Ensure. This is claimed to be a nutritional drink but its high sugar content makes it less than ideal for a healthy diet, never mind a diet for someone with cancer who would be wise to avoid anything with this amount of sugar. If one is going to drink their nutrition, they would be better off preparing a fruit and vegetable smoothie with JuicePlus+ Complete or juicing some fresh vegetables like a cucumber, kale, parsley, lemon, celery combo.

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There are many more things that I would suggest to ensure one is eating well when they have cancer, but for now, this is a great start! My thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society for producing this information as it is perhaps a good initial resource for someone who has not considered the impact of nutrition on health before. But, as I’ve learned on this journey, it is in my best interest to consider all information critically, do my own research, and make choices that align with my intuitive guidance. I trust you will do the same.