Nutrition after cancer treatment

Most side effects go away after treatment ends, but some can take time to resolve. It is important to continue eating well (as per advice during treatment) until your side-effects are resolved and no longer impacting on your ability to eat. Some people who have had cancer change their diet dramatically in an attempt to stop the cancer coming back. Unfortunately, no specific foods have been proven to prevent cancer recurring.

However, healthy habits, like eating well and doing regular physical activity, may help to reduce the chance of some cancers returning.

After treatment finishes and your eating has returned to usual patterns, it is safe to change to a ‘healthy–eating’ focus (your dietitian can advise you on this) and the following information may help.

Healthy eating after treatment Nutrition and Cancer book June 2013

The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council to help people choose a healthy diet using a variety of foods. The guidelines provide general information about the amounts and kinds of food you need each day to get enough of the nutrients that are essential for overall good health and wellbeing.

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs. Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly. Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:

  • plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under two years)
  • plenty of water.

Some helpful suggestions to maintain your nutrition after cancer treatment:

  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
  • Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.
  • Replace high fat foods which contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado. (Low fat diets are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years.)
  • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt. Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods. Avoid adding salt to foods in cooking or at the table.
  • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar–sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
  • Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
  • Care for your food: prepare and store it safely.
This information was last reviewed in June 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Jenelle Loeliger, Head – Nutrition Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Aigner, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline ACT; Ian Anderson, Consumer; Anna Boltong, PhD Candidate (Dietitian), Department of Cancer Experiences Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Bridget Kehoe, Public Health Coordinator (Nutrition and Physical Activity), Cancer Council QLD; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA; and Roswitha Stegmann, Helpline Nurse, Cancer Council WA.

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