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Don’t know what to eat after cancer treatment ends?

You make it through cancer treatments and are feeling better, but your body may also still be recovering. What you eat plays an important role in your recovery and keeping you healthy moving forward. Consider making positive lifestyle changes, especially with your diet.

“You get through treatment, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily all healed,” said Katrina Sommer, clinical dietitian for OSF HealthCare. “It’s OK to celebrate that your treatments are over, and then choose healthy diet and lifestyle changes to help you continue to feel well.”

Best diet for cancer remission

For cancer survivors, the ultimate prize is a clean bill of health. But it doesn’t come with the snap of your fingers.

“When your appetite resumes, it will be easier to eat a big cheeseburger with fries and a shake,” Katrina said. “These weren’t healthy before your diagnosis or during your treatment. They’re not suddenly healthy when your treatment is done. Eat these foods as a treat once in a while, but not on a daily basis.”

Eating healthy can be simple and tasty

> Find healthy recipes

So, what is the best cancer remission diet? Well, it’s probably pretty familiar to you already. Eat more plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains and limit red meat, processed meat and other processed foods. Drink plenty of water instead of sugary drinks, too.

Yes, the best diet for cancer patients in remission is the same as the best diet for everyone. It’s one that is rich in nutrients the body needs to function at its best.

“Everyone wants exciting, but there’s no magic bullet. It’s basic healthy eating,” Katrina said.

To make following this eating plan easier, Katrina advises planning your menus a week at a time. Shop and prepare your food on the weekend to reduce daily cooking time.

“If you have a plan, you are more likely to make healthy food choices.”

Should you follow a keto diet after cancer remission?

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There is still a lot of research that needs to be done before we can know if there are benefits to the keto diet for cancer patients.

You should speak with your health care provider before making any drastic changes to your diet. If you’re considering trying out the keto diet, they can help you understand how those food choices can affect you.

There are conflicting studies about the overall health benefits of the ketogenic diet. The diet prioritizes foods that are high in fat and low on carbohydrates. The diet causes your body to burn up ketones – produced from fat – for energy, instead of blood sugar (glucose) that comes from carbohydrates.

Some research shows that following a keto diet during cancer treatment may help prevent tumors. The working theory is that cancer cells rely heavily on glucose for fuel. So, a diet that restricts the amount of glucose available to the abnormal cells can stunt or prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading.

However, studies have shown not all types of cancer cells rely on glucose for energy, and those that do can adapt when glucose is not available.

Many keto diets rely heavily on processed foods and red meats. These foods have been shown to increase your risk for cancer.

This diet restricts carbohydrates – all breads, grains and other starchy foods, fruits, starchy vegetables, beans and sugary foods. Research shows that limiting refined grains and sugary foods is part of a cancer protective diet. But beans and grains have beneficial qualities for cancer prevention and overall general health.

Restrictive diets can be low on important nutrients and hard to follow long term. If you choose to follow this type of diet, work with your health care provider and registered dietitian to ensure you are getting the proper nutrients.

Should you follow a paleo diet for cancer remission?

Research suggests that cutting out whole grains and beans from your diet may not be beneficial for your health because you may miss out on important nutrients.

Following restrictive diets can also be hard to maintain long term. Always consult your health care provider before starting a new diet.

The paleo diet aims to mimic the diets of Stone Age humans, based on the theory that people are not meant to digest foods that have been introduced since humans developed agriculture.

The paleo diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats and eggs. It excludes grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods.

Foods to avoid after cancer

As your appetite returns after treatment, you’re likely to crave some of your favorite sinful delights.

One trap that’s easy to fall into is opting for fast-food dinners after a day at work. It’s a time and convenience thing.

But a little bit of meal planning can help you avoid that trap.

Katrina’s advice: Don’t deny yourself the pleasure – just watch your portions and frequency of the treats.

“Do you have a big bowl of ice cream and eat out of the container? Or do you have a small scoop at your grandchild’s birthday party? Absolutely, have the small scoop and enjoy the party,” she said.

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: Cancer, Diet & Exercise