What we need to eat as cancer survivors

Doctors, physios, nutritionists and everyone else tell us we must eat healthily.  This photo shows fish and vegetables piled high with recommended suitable foods.

But, when flat out with fatigue, which one of us has time or energy to cook a similar meal ? All I want to do is open the fridge door and grab enough to keep me going.

Now we are frequently told to change our diet and eat more plants.  But this can go over your head when you are too tired to take in any more information.  So what is one to do?

Recently a cookbook was published by a cancer hospital, I read it avidly looking for simple ideas for easy-to-prepare,healthy meals.  I am sure it will make loads of money for the hospital, BUT opening the book the first recipe I saw had 18 different ingredients, including hot spices. (a no-no for many on cancer drugs). And when tired, picking three things to make something is about my limit.

Also, anyone with Bowel or similar cancers may not be able to digest spices, and must watch out for nuts, seeds, whole grains, dried fruits, veg or fruit skins, avoiding fibre which can include being very careful with raw veg and salads .  So I would say ‘most cancers can be helped by ….but with a few in the gut one should be careful about eating fibre , spices and whole foods ‘.

Friends tell me if they have such a cancer, and want to go out to eat, phone the restaurant beforehand.  Today many restaurants have their menus online, so choose something you can eat, and suggest any modifications to suit your diet. I have been lucky – given warning in advance I generally find restaurants have been very helpful.

Livestrong has good advice 

Recently this U.S. cancer charity sent out a newsletter emphasising the importance of protein in our diet. This followed similar newsletters, and many mentioned The Mediterranean diet as a good example of what we should eat: –

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grainsPasta Salad, Olives, Feta Cheese, Arugula
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fish and seafood at least twice per week
  • Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation
  • red meats only on rare, special occasions
  • Other protein-rich foods include chickpeas, quinoa, and seeds: (Incidentally Waitrose has Milled Golden Flaxseed wih Chia and Hemp seed at £3 / 200grms to sprinkle over food).

Googling how much protein we need per day came up with

  • 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
  • 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
  • But, Reseach shows nearly half (46%) of adults are not getting enough protein

Once I got that into my head, I could plan easy-to-eat food that contained fruit, vegetables (inc. salad and tomatoes) and lots of simple ideas to get my daily protein fix, from pots of yogurt, matchbox size pieces of cheese, feta cheese to crumble on top of a salad, small tins of baked beans, tuna, sardines, salmon, hard-boiled eggs to store in fridge, nuts to snack on; in fact it was surprising how much protein I could muster up – without touching no-nos such as processed meats like chorizo, salami, most ham, and other meats with preservatives.

And if we worry about having enough vitamins, it’s easy to snack on celery, carrot, cucumber and other chunks of raw veggies – doctors say that will ensure we have our ‘5 a day’ to give us enough, without taking supplements.  And they warn only take supplements if advised by your doctor.

Read more on protein : Protein 101: What It Is, Why It’s Important and How to Get More


If you think you aren’t getting enough protein

While plant-based diets are getting attention, you don’t have to go 100% Vegan to realise we can all cut down on some foods to help the environment.

However, a recent feature in The Daily Telegraph warned we must be aware that many meat substitures marketed as Vegan-suitable contain masses of sugar,salt and preservatives.  It warned readers NOT to take these meat alternatives on trust, but to read the labels very carefully.

And beware pre-packaged ready meals, especially plant-based ones. An eye-catching package showing a glowing green or red veggie bursting out, can be hiding a lot  (think of packaging, preservatives, hidden sugars to give flavour, etc),.  Instead get a bowl and start filling with salad, cut up hard-boiled eggs and crumble a bit of Feta cheese on top, and there you have a very healthy meal with no cooking except for the eggs.

Or what about an old-fashioned Plougman’s lunch, once a staple of any Pub?  A matchbox sized piece of cheese, a crusty roll, butter (actually better than spread which may contain additives), celery, a tomato – and if your stomach will allow, pickles etc.

Livestrong say “if you need another reason to focus on meeting your protein needs, get this: People with obesity who follow higher-protein diets — at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight — were observed to lose more weight and preserve more lean muscle mass as well as enjoy reduced blood pressure and triglycerides, according to a June 2017 clinical review in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.

To meet those needs, limit your intake of red and processed meats and include plenty of plant-based proteins in your diet. Good sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, soy foods, whole grains and leafy vegetables. Round out your diet with seafood, low-fat dairy, poultry and eggs.


You can cook eggs, but if you are really fatigued then my doctor recommended Cheerios or similar cereals.  Cerealscan be a bore – it means Googling or scanning the packets to make sure your cereal isn’t full of sugar, and does contain protein.  But once that is done, Cereals are easy to store, pour out and splosh milk over.

And have a think about full-fat Jersey milk, with all that cream on top !  There is an explanation as to why this could be better for you, and even help you lost weight, on https://aftercancers.com/ideas-for-losing-weight/

There are many benefits to including protein at breakfast, one of which is weight control. “A high-protein breakfast can help promote weight loss and/or prevent weight gain or regain,” says Su-Nui Escobar, RDN. “One key factor is the improvement in appetite control and satiety.”

Little and often is a sensible way to go

Not only is it tiring to cook a full meal, but your stomach may not be able to take this much in one go. Try eating ‘snacky’ meals during the day – you may find it easier to get all your daily nutrition in small doses. Forking into a thick steak or chugging a protein shake with 40 or 50 grams of protein in one sitting is not as effective as you might think, says Paige Penick, RDN. “Your body just can’t use that much protein at once.”

0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per meal — or about 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal — is optimal and is the maximum amount your muscles can absorb at once, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Any more provides no additional benefit, and excess protein is broken down to glucose or triglycerides for energy storage in muscle or fat.

Foods with protein take longer to digest, so there’s a healthy payoff for you. Snack smartly by including a high-protein food at each of your mini-meals:  Greek yogurt, almonds or walnuts, a hard-boiled egg, low-fat cottage cheese or a glass of milk, peanut butter or seeds (such as pumpkin seeds), etc..

Don’t think you have to eat a heavy meal if you don’t fancy it. Carrying a plate to the fridge and picking out a bit of everything you fancy will almost certainly give you what you need, provided you have stocked up with the right ingredients to start with.