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Eating natural food products while undergoing chemotherapy

As a business that sells natural food products, we attract customers for a variety of different reasons. One of those reasons is because of cancer. Cancer is a shock for any individual or family. It often sees ordinary people doing whatever they can to help their loved one.One such way is to review and change the household approach to diet and cleaning products. Indeed, we get quite a few emails from people with cancer in the family. Many of whom are asking about specific natural food products and the items we stock.

In this special edition blog, we take a look at eating while undergoing cancer treatments and what you can do to support your loved one.

Why natural food products?

Cancer research around the world continues. But we do know that cancers such as bowel cancer have a strong link to what we eat. 

Cancer Research UK estimates that 12% of all cases are due to low fibre diets. 

Bowel Cancer Australia highlights the “strong link between diet and cancer”. And the need to “establish good eating and drinking habits” to aid with recovery.  

Increasing fibre with organic fruit and vegetables as well as enjoying a balanced diet helps avoid many common cancers. Increasing water intake helps as well. So too does being aware of the condition and origin of the food you eat.

Foods with sugar, especially refined sugars, cause a lot of problems when it comes to digestion and cancer. So too do refined oils, refined carbohydrates, processed dairy and factory farmed meats. Processed foods are problematic. The more adulterated the food, the more likely it is to contain potential catalysts for cancer.

Overly refined ingredients and processed foods also have a tendency to hide sugars, bad fats and salt.  These sugars, unnatural fats and high levels of salt contribute to health issues such as obesity, which again increases the risk of cancer.

The problem with our food system is that these nasties can be hiding in the food and we may not even know about it. In food marketing, health claims may mislead through clever wording. Or the focus might be on things we believe are healthy that cover up other failings within the food. 

For example, processed, sugary kid’s breakfast cereals claiming they are low GI. They may be low GI, but this doesn’t change the incredibly high sugar levels and processed nature of the food. The benefits of low GI are non-existent if the food itself is junk. 

This is why so many people start their cancer journey through turning to natural food products. 

By switching to natural food products with no to low processing, we can begin to influence health for the better. 

Accept there is a new normal

Finding the right natural food products for a cancer sufferer is only a small part of the battle. Another is heading off the side effects of the illness and the treatments. Radiation, chemotherapy, medications and experimental treatments can and do affect eating habits.

Ask any chemotherapy recipient how things are going in the taste department and the majority will explain the mouth has a funny taste. This makes it hard to enjoy food. Add the nausea, change in toilet habits and the weakness and feeling unwell to the mix. With all that going on, it can be incredibly difficult to get excited about food.

This is where the new normal comes in. In a lot of ways, you have to change the way food operates in your home. Natural food products are all good and well, but they are useless if no one wants to eat them.

There are a few things you can try to help add with the food related side effects associated with cancer:

Swap the big family dinner to a medium sized lunch and smaller snacks throughout the day. 

It is much easier to eat smaller portions of food a few times a day. Great simple snacks and meals are things like toast with peanut butter, pita bread with hummus, rolled oats and porridge, mashed sweet potato and pumpkin·         

Be mindful of other elements that may restrict what you can eat. 

For example, any bowel cancer patient with a stoma or colostomy bag will automatically need to reduce their food intake. So too will stomach cancer patients. it will be a case of trial and error to find the right foods as well as portion sizes·         

Plan food to help minimise constipation. 

Cancer treatments often make patients constipated. Feeling constipated will negatively impact appetite. So you should increase the fibre with simple snacks such as apple slices, carrot sticks and green leafy vegetables. You can also make use of homemade high fibre juices with things like kale, banana and anti-oxidant rich berries·         

Encourage exercise. 

The majority of chemotherapy treatments encourage 20 minutes of gentle walking per day where possible. This is because it helps with the chemo, can assist with constipation and exercise helps keep up health in other areas. Physical exertion also boosts mood and appetite, two vital components in the cancer fight·         

Avoid upsetting a delicate digestive balance. 

Sugars, high doses of fruit acids, caffeine as well as fatty foods can make life difficult post chemo. They also cause the stomach and bowl to overact and lead to diarrhoea. It’s not just your a-typical fried food or processed sugars, either. Naturally fatty meats like lamb, ham and sausages cause issue. So too does overdosing on too much citrus based juice or the most natural of cakes 

One of the best ways to work out when a cancer patient will and won’t be able to eat well is to keep a food diary. A food diary is a simple log of treatment times matched with meals and side effect cycles. Knowledge is power when it comes to eating during cancer treatment.

So too is patience. Keep in mind that cancer scares the hell out of most people. So it may create denial, anger, avoidance, sadness and stress as a result. Plus, a cancer patient loses a lot of their autonomy and ability to make decisions about their lives. They often can't work, their routine becomes dominated by treatment, their body and their mind sufferers. And the things they used to like doing often take a big backseat to rest, recovery and doctor's appointments. 

So restricting their food habits and attempting to control diet may be seen as yet another person trying to control their life. Tread softly and with empathy in mind.

Encourage, don’t demand, the change to natural food products or new diets. 

The trouble with comfort eating

We pick up many of our food habits when we’re young. So when we are feeling poorly, we revert to those food habits. Many of these habits revolve around comfort foods. Much of these comfort foods we crave for the emotional comfort may actually give us a hard time during cancer treatments.

For example, ginger ale and lemonade were common sickness foods back in the day. But these high doses of sugar with not a lemon or strip of ginger in sight can make us feel terribly unwell.

We may reach for dry crackers. What we don't realise is we’re eating processed foods packed with gluten, which can further upset the digestive system.

Some even tuck into red meat, big meals and even alcohol to aid with sleep. These are big cancer recovery no-nos.

The best way to break these habits is to invent new ones. Recreate that lemonade with fresh juice, being mindful of the citrus flavours in the mouth (and on mouth ulcers) or influence on digestion. 

Instead of using ginger ale, encourage ginger in its natural forms. Ginger is great with nausea and upset stomachs and can go some way to relieve side effects.

Get the crackers, but choose healthy, gluten free ones. And team them with hummus and peanut butter. Or toast up organic pita bread instead of crackers.

Replace that nightly hot toddy with a cup of organic ginger or peppermint tea. Have some nice fish instead of that red meat. 

And reduce temptation by cooking smarter. Plan meals to freeze in small containers. Make it easy for your cancer patient to reheat a meal when the mood and appetite align without worrying about the extra energy to cook then and there.

Breaking the habits and placing them with new ones is the best way to make bigger changes. 

Natural food products help- but they are not the whole ballgame

Doing everything you can to aid in recovery from cancer and assist with the side effects of treatment is important. And yes, natural food products do play a big role in this. But it’s not the whole ballgame. 

Looking after the emotional wellbeing of a person with cancer is equally as important. So remember not to overdo it with the change and cause more stress. 

If you need any advice or have any questions about eating natural food products for cancer recovery or in general, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line or give us a call.