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Nutrition Tips after Cancer Treatment Ends

A new study published in the journal Cancer reports that on average, those that have gone through cancer treatments eat a less healthy diet afterwards than the overall population. In a nationwide, telephone based survey of 1,533 cancer survivors and 3,075 individuals who never had cancer matched by age, sex and race and ethnicity, cancer survivors were found to have a poor diet quality regardless of the interval from diagnosis. Lung cancer survivors appeared to have the worst diet and breast cancer survivors the best.  Diet quality was assessed by comparing with the 2010 Healthy Eating Index.

Cancer survivors consumed significantly more empty calories and also had a lower dietary intake of fiber, vitamin D, vitamin E, potassium, and calcium but higher intakes of saturated fat and sodium in relation to recommended intake levels in the dietary guidelines. Because of this, the authors suggest that medical professionals who treat those that have had cancer talk to them about nutrition, especially since they have a higher risk of chronic health problems.

Fang Fang Zhang, an epidemiologist at Tufts University who co-wrote the study explains some potential reasons for the results. It’s possible that the cancer survivors may have had an unhealthy diet compared to the general population before their diagnosis. Also, cancer treatments can result in food cravings or a change in the way food taste, which could result in unhealthy eating habits. Stress may also lead them to not make a nutritious diet a priority in their life.

Healthy eating for cancer survivors is encouraged because it helps in regaining strength, rebuilding tissue, and feeling better overall.  The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
    • If overweight or obese, limit consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to promote weight loss
  • Engage in regular physical activity
    • Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis
    • Aim to exercise at least 150 min/week
    • Include strength training exercises at least 2 days/week
  • Achieve a dietary pattern that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
    • Follow the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention; i.e., limit consumption of processed meat and red meat; eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits daily; choose whole grains instead of refined grain products; and, if you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption to no more than 1 drink daily for women or 2 drinks daily for men

The Simms/Mann Center’s Integrative Oncology Specialist Carolyn Katzin, MS, CNS, MNT, is available for those needing assistance in nutrition planning. She provides special educational programs for patients and family members to develop an individually tailored nutritional plan to optimize wellness. She has an extensive background in nutrition, integrative medicine, preventative health and complementary care and was a member of the workgroup that helped formulate ACS Nutrition Guidelines. She has also written two books, The Cancer Nutrition Handbook and The Everything Cancer-Fighting Cookbook, which are available on

For an appointment with Carolyn who will help personalize recommendations, email For more information, go to  or call 310 794-6644.  We welcome inquiries.

To read more on the study published in the journal Cancer, go to:

Want more tips for healthy eating? Check out American Cancer Society’s full list of suggestions at:

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