A Lung Cancer Diet? Foods To Eat and Avoid | MyLungCancerTeam

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A Lung Cancer Diet? Foods To Eat and Avoid

Updated on April 22, 2024

Most research on nutrition and cancer relates to cancer prevention because there’s no specific diet known to cure cancer. However, what you eat plays a crucial role in your ability to deal with treatment side effects and feel your best.

Avoiding fad diets and focusing on a nutritious, balanced diet is a solid strategy whether you’re trying to prevent lung cancer, undergoing treatment, or in remission. If nutrition hasn’t been a priority in the past, now is the perfect time to start caring for yourself by eating well. Here are a few pointers to move you in the right direction.

Pay Attention To Energy-Boosting Nutrients

One of the most common issues for individuals with lung cancer is fatigue. Cancer is emotionally and physically taxing, and the side effects of medications and treatments can leave you feeling exhausted. Try to eat plenty of micronutrients and macronutrients that support good energy levels.

Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies

If you don’t have much of an appetite or you’re not eating a variety of foods, nutrient deficiencies could make it harder to feel good. Potential micronutrient deficiencies may include:

  • Folic acid
  • L-carnitine
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc

Members of MyLungCancerTeam have shared stories of deficiencies after treatment. “I had a PET scan that showed me as cancer-free, but I felt horrible. It was a B12 deficiency. I had shots daily for a week, now weekly. It seems like a lot of people need D3 and B12 after treatment,” wrote one member.

Before trying over-the-counter supplements, ask your doctor if your symptoms could be related to a nutrient deficiency. A simple blood test should help identify deficiencies. From there, your doctor can help you find the best way to boost your levels back to the normal range.

Don’t take supplements without first communicating with your oncology team. Certain supplements may interact with your medications or even make your condition worse.

Get Enough Protein

Eating enough protein can be another challenge for people with lung cancer. Unintentional weight loss and insufficient protein intake can lead to loss of muscle mass. This can leave you feeling weak or unable to do things you used to do.

Eggs are one of the highest-quality sources of protein available. If omelets or scrambled eggs seem unappealing to you, consider trying cold hard-boiled eggs. You could also make fresh egg salad spread on toast or pretzels.

Other ways to get protein include:

  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy products like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Poultry
  • Red meat
  • Soybeans like edamame or tofu

Beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens contain protein. Because these foods also have fiber, they can help prevent constipation. They’re a heart-healthy protein choice, especially for those with high cholesterol.

If you don’t feel up to eating a lot of protein-rich foods, protein shakes and supplements can help you meet your body’s needs. You can create your own protein shake using protein powder or choose a premade protein shake from a variety of brands and flavors at the grocery store. For example, one member of MyLungCancerTeam shared, “I could not put anything in my mouth without gagging, so that’s when I went back to drinking Ensure. The secret, I found out, is to have it really cold and shake it until it’s foamy like a milkshake. Drink it from a glass container. My favorite is butter pecan. It would fill me up and give me some nutrition at the same time.”

If you’re particularly lethargic or weak, ask your oncologist for a referral to a registered dietitian. Talking about your eating habits with a dietitian could help you brainstorm ideas and recipes to improve your nutrition. Along with changing the foods you eat, adjusting your meal schedule from three large meals a day to several small meals could make it easier to get the nutrition your body needs.

The Worst Foods for Lung Cancer

If you experience a loss of appetite or are losing weight, most health care professionals will recommend you avoid overly restricting your diet. When you have cancer, it’s sometimes more important to eat enough calories than to worry about every nutritional detail.

However, some research suggests that alcohol, red meat, and processed meats may raise the risk of lung cancer. Many oncologists also recommend minimizing refined sugar in your diet. Instead, try to eat complex carbohydrates like unprocessed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans that will lead to a slower increase in blood sugar and provide a dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Minimize fast food and eating out at restaurants by grocery shopping regularly, if you’re able, or by having groceries delivered. You don’t have to be a great cook to eat simple, healthy foods from home. Easy meals and snacks like oatmeal with chopped nuts, an apple with peanut butter, a yogurt parfait with fresh fruit, or veggies with hummus or guacamole can help you save money and boost your nutrient intake.

A Note About Food Safety

No matter what you choose to eat, the most important thing is that your food is safe. Lung cancer treatment can suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to food poisoning.

Follow these basic food safety tips:

  • Before opening a can, wash the top with soap and water.
  • Do not cook or eat any food with damaged packaging or from cans with dents or bulges.
  • Follow safe protocols for thawing frozen food. Don’t thaw at room temperature.
  • Don’t eat raw vegetable sprouts, raw seafood, unpasteurized fruit juices or dairy products, cracked eggs, or rare meat.
  • Keep hot foods hot (over 140 degrees Fahrenheit) and cold foods cold (under 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Rinse fresh produce with running water. Buy whole fruit instead of precut fruit.
  • Toss any moldy, slimy, or smelly foods. Live by the phrase “When in doubt, throw it out.”
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food, after preparing food, and before you eat.

Always use clean utensils and separate cutting boards to keep raw food apart from ready-to-eat foods. A meat thermometer can help you determine if food has been cooked to the proper temperature (160 degrees for meat and 180 degrees for poultry). Be mindful of expiration dates, and avoid free food samples, deli meats, and unrefrigerated pastries that contain cream or custard.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 12,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Do you have any lung cancer food tips to share? What do you consider to be the best diet for lung cancer? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on April 22, 2024
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Kathryn Shohara, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC is a clinical dietitian for adults at Baylor Scott & White Hospitals. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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