We speak to Liz Butler, a cancer-specific nutritionist, about the best foods to eat when you are diagnosed with cancer, and the foods you should stay far away from
Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after cancer treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger. But we know it’s not that simple, is it?
There may be times during your cancer treatment when you are unable to eat as healthy as you would like. When you’re experiencing sore mouth, difficulty swallowing, and general loss of appetite, how are you supposed to keep your diet balanced and nutritious?
Good nutrition is especially important if you have cancer because both the illness and its treatment can affect your appetite. Cancer and cancer treatments can also affect your body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and use nutrients.
Here’s where Liz Butler steps in. Liz is a nutritional therapist and has been working with people with cancer for the last 17 years.
“I’ve had an interest in nutrition since I was a child, so that’s been a lifelong interest,’ she explains to us. “The reason I love working with people with cancer is because it’s incredibly rewarding to see how much nutrition can influence people’s health with cancer. And what I also like is when people are facing a serious illness like cancer, they’re very engaged and very motivated. They want to make big changes.”
Liz is the founder of Body Soul Nutrition, and together with a small team of other nutritional therapists, specialises in supporting people with cancer.
“When we work with people at Body Soul Nutrition we obviously focus on diet, but we have a very holistic approach so we help people with other lifestyle issues such as making sure they’re getting the right type of exercise, getting good quality sleep, looking at stress management and emotional health,” she says. “When you put all those things together with nutrition, you can have such profound impact on health and that’s really rewarding for us.”
Body Soul Nutrition offers several services, catering for different medical needs and budgets.
“Not everyone can afford the one-to-one intensive support that we offer,” says Liz.” So we do all sorts of things for very little money or for free.”
So how can cancer patients benefit from a nutrition plan? Liz explains: “We dig down deep into what the root causes of the health problems are.
“When we’re working with someone with cancer, we want to try and understand why that type cancer developed in that certain place, what the weaknesses are – genetic or acquired from the environment or lifestyle. So we dig deep to find out where the weaknesses lie. We then build up a picture of that individual’s health and design a diet and lifestyle supplement programme that will support them. So it’s not about one diet being for breast cancer and one being for prostate cancer, it’s the whole person we need to consider.”
Top five food groups to keep in your diet if you have cancer, according to nutritionist Liz Butler
Liz says: “There’s a different approach for each person, but some of the basic things that are always going to be the same are…”
1) High on the list is plant foods, in particular vegetables and also fruit. I know the government recommends at least five portions a day, well our recommendation is 8-10 portions a day. So we really want to encourage people to max out on the vegetables and fruits.
2) Secondly, other plant foods are also very valuable to us apart from vegetables and fruit. So nuts and seeds are at number two because we want to make sure that the body is getting all the right fats that it needs. Having nuts and seeds in their fresh form is very, very useful because it has the right level of essential fatty acids. We put particular emphasis on the Omega 3 fats because they have an anti-inflammatory effect.
3) Number three would be herbs and spices. These are just so powerful because of their anti-cancer properties and also their anti-inflammatory properties. Think spices like ginger and garlic and turmeric. Plus things like rosemary and thyme are packed full of antioxidants.
4) One thing I feel gets neglected is getting enough water into the body. Many of us are mildly dehydrated without really knowing it. And every biochemical reaction needs water to take place.
5) I could go on with others, but I think next would be small amounts of animal products. I know a lot of people feel that a completely vegan diet is the way to go when you have cancer, and there are some clients when that is the best way. But for most people, we feel a plant-based diet with small amounts of animal products is preferable to completely vegan. We feel that small amounts of really good quality meat, fish and eggs can be a valuable addition in terms of nutrients.
Top five food groups to avoid if you have cancer
1) Top of the list is sugar. There has been a lot of information about sugar being detrimental to people with cancer. Some people say you should avoid every little piece of sugar, including what’s in fruit. On the other end of the scale, some people say sugar is completely fine and there’s no need to limit it. We feel that refined sugar like in sweets, cakes and biscuits should be avoided. (See here for our sugar-free sweets.)
2) Bad fats
3) Processed foods – Buy things in their most natural form
4) Alcohol – Sorry, but I’m afraid we would recommend staying away from alcohol
5) Dairy – Opt for sheep’s milk rather than cow’s milk
Did you find this useful? You can hear more about what Liz has to say in our Cancer Camional Podcast, Episode 8.
Liz Butler is the founder of Body Soul Nutrition. After receiving an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, Liz went on to become a Nutritional Therapist through the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in 2000. She has since attained a Masters degree in Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey.