The below article was published in the Irish Times Health Supplement on 16/07/2019 and was written by: Michelle McDonagh
Better screening, diagnosis and treatments mean that for many patients today, cancer can become a chronic ongoing illness that requires long term management. The number of cancer survivors worldwide is increasing dramatically, and it is forecast that this number will exceed 70 million by 2050.
In recent years, research has started to look at the importance of a healthy lifestyle after cancer treatment.
Thousands of websites, books, blogs, articles and experts exist, giving advice on how to eat both during cancer treatment and afterwards. Recent trends — from juicing and veganism to the Ketogenic diet — have all been marketed towards cancer patients and survivors.
However, as Dr Aoife Ryan, a registered dietitian and lecturer in Nutritional Sciences at UCC points out, none of these diets have a solid evidence base and many are experimental, meaning there is a lot of misleading nutritional advice for cancer survivors out there.
Dr Ryan is co-author with Dr Éadaoin Ní Bhuachalla of a new free evidence-based cookbook for cancer survivors called Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors which has been launched by University College Cork (UCC), in conjunction with Breakthrough Cancer Research (BCR), in response to the many ‘fad’ diets currently being pushed on cancer patients.
The new book, which is available in hospitals across Ireland, is a sequel to their successful and award-winning cancer cookbooks which have been helping those fighting the disease to maintain their weight. The new book is targeted towards those who are finished cancer treatment and have been told by their doctors to follow a healthy eating diet.
Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors contains the latest information from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report from 2018, which includes the most reliable information from all of the scientific studies published by the organisation and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The book is endorsed by the Irish Society of Medical Oncology, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism and the National Cancer Control Programme.
The recommendations for healthy lifestyle choices are explained in lay language within the book which includes a collection of delicious healthy recipes for meals and snacks suitable for all the family. The evidence shows that following these recommendations may improve the chances of longer-term survival after a cancer diagnosis.
“For those who are lucky enough to be cured of cancer, there was a gap in reliable evidence-based information which was being filled by non-experts including chefs, bloggers and cancer survivors advocating diets like the Ketogenic diet, blood type diets and juice diets, or to avoid dairy or go vegan. Our aim with this book was to cut through all the confusing noise out there and provide the best advice on healthy eating for cancer survivors who want to improve their chances of long-term survival and in some cases, lose weight.”
Dr Ryan points out that the recipes are not extravagant and are low in fat, salt and sugar and high in fibre, vegetables and wholegrains. They are suitable for the general population including children, not just cancer survivors, and for people with diabetes and heart disease.
“For cancer survivors who do not have problems with weight loss or with their appetite or food intake, a healthy eating diet might be the most appropriate plan. If you have completed your cancer treatment and been told that you are in remission, it is best to eat a healthy diet, keep physically active and try to maintain a healthy body weight,” she says.
It is recommended that all patients diagnosed with cancer receive advice from a registered health care professional (preferably from a registered dietitian with experience in oncology, or to talk to their oncologist or cancer specialist nurse) on what diet best suits their diagnosis and personal needs.
The book notes: “There is scientific evidence that certain lifestyle factors can help to reduce the risk of developing a new cancer and the risk of a cancer coming back. Unfortunately no change can reduce your risk totally or guarantee a cancer-free life. There are people who do everything ‘right’ and still develop cancer. There are people who make all of the recommended changes after a cancer diagnosis and unfortunately their disease may still return despite this. However, there are things you can do to help you be as healthy as possible.”
20,000 free copies of Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors are available through the dietetic departments of Irish hospitals, or by contacting www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie
The World Cancer Research Fund recommends:
- Be a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Eat wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans
- Limit fast foods and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars
- Limit red meat and eat little, if any, processed meat
- Limit sugar sweetened drinks – drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks.
- Limit alcohol consumption – for cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol.
- Do not use supplements for cancer prevention – aim to meet needs through diet alone.
Choosing snacks that are healthy and low in calories is challenging, particularly for those on the go a lot and those who spend a lot of time outside the home. It is hugely tempting to select the high calorie high far, high sugar options on sale at every shop checkout. These snacks are often empty calories, contributing to weight gain and providing little to no nutrients for health. Being prepared in advance and bringing healthier options with you can help minimize the temptation to snack on high fat and high sugar foods. Below is a list of options that are lower in calories and also snacks that provide many other important nutrients for health.
- Piece of fruit
- Handful of berries
- Fruit salad
- Fruit skewer/fruit skewer with low fat cheese
- Chopped raw vegetables with hummus/healthy dip (see ‘savoury dips section’ pg 163)
- ½ avocado
- Low fat yogurt
- Stewed fruit with yogurt
- Glass of low fat milk
- Cup of homemade soup
- Frozen low fat yogurt
- Roasted chickpeas with spices
- Small handful of nuts e.g. peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts
- Small handful of dried fruit
- Small bowl of wholegrain cereal
- Small brown scone with tsp. no added sugar jam/nut butter
- Overnight oats
- 1 mini-brown bagel with low fat/homemade hummus/salsa/healthy dip
- Rice cakes/wholemeal crisp bread topped with tsp nut butter or mashed banana or matchbox size low fat cheese or low fat cheese spread.
Featured Recipe: Mediterranean Fish Tray Bake
For recipes as delicious as the below, visit our books page to for the downloadable E-Book or to order your copy today.
Serves: 4 Prep time: 15 mins Cooking Time: 30-35 mins
- 800 g baby potatoes
- 250 g cherry tomatoes
- 1 courgette, chopped
- 2 red peppers, chopped
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
- Handful of black olives (stone removed), rinsed
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered
- Sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 x 120 g fish fillets of your choice e.g. salmon, cod, hake etc.
- Small handful fresh basil leaves
- Juice ½ lemon
- ½ a small clove of garlic
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 heaped tbsps. Low fat Greek style yoghurt
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Scrub the potatoes clean and halve any large ones.
Arrange the potatoes and all of the vegetables in a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper and scatter over the olives, herbs, garlic and 1-2 tbsp of olive oil.
Place in oven and cook for 15- 20 minutes.
Remove tray from the oven and place fish fillets on top of the vegetables, along with the rounds of lemon. Return the tray to the oven and continue to cook for a further 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes, vegetables and fish are cooked through.
While the tray bake is cooking, make the basil & mustard yoghurt dressing. Crush the basil and scrape into a bowl. Add 1/2 clove crushed garlic, mustard, yoghurt and the juice of ½ a lemon. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, mix well and serve drizzled over the salmon tray bake when cooked.