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Physical health

When you have cancer, the last thing you want is another physical health problem to worry about. You might think, “Who cares about diet and exercise when I’m coping with cancer?” However, eating healthy meals and being active can help you find the physical and mental strength you’ll need. The good news is that small, simple changes can go a long way.

Recipes

Healthy eating is so important when you have cancer. These recipes are simple, delicious, and good for you.

Creamy Avocado Hummus

Creamy Avocado Hummus

A hearty snack full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, this avocado hummus is a real treat! It is high in calories and protein, ideal for those who have lost weight during cancer treatment. It is also a perfect snack if you have nausea, constipation, or taste changes. To switch it up: you can use lime juice instead of lemon and add cilantro for a zestier dip. This hummus would pair wonderfully with crudité or your favorite crackers or pita.

Serves

4

Prep Time

20 minutes

Cook Time

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 320 calories, 24 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 24 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat
  • Good source of calories and protein
  • May help those experiencing nausea or constipation

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Lentil Sliders

Lentil Sliders

A delicious and healthy alternative to beef sliders! Compared with typical burgers, these vegan sliders are lower in calories and fat, and higher in nutritional value. Also a good source of fiber, these sliders are a great option for those who are experiencing constipation. Serve these with homemade sweet potato chips or your favorite roasted vegetables for a fun and tasty meal. These are also perfect to make a larger batch ahead and freeze the cooked burgers for a quick and easy meal to have on hand when fatigued.

Serves

6-12 (6 larger sliders or 12 smaller sliders)

Prep Time

25 minutes

Cook Time

20 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving of 12 burgers (double for 6 servings): 177 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams dietary fiber, 9 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Lower in calories and higher in nutritional value than traditional beef burgers
  • May help those experiencing constipation

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Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Smoothie

Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Smoothie

This smoothie is a delicious combination of fruit, vegetable, and peanut butter. The banana is a good source of potassium and the pumpkin is a good source of carotenoids. The flaxseeds add additional dietary fiber and healthy fat and the turmeric provides an additional boost of antioxidants. This smoothie also provides a healthy dose of protein with the peanut butter and yogurt. The dairy can be substituted with any non-dairy yogurt (coconut, soy, or almond).

Serves

1

Prep Time

5 minutes

Cook Time

Nutrition Information:

379 calories, 17 grams total fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 335 mg sodium, 50 grams total carbohydrate, 9 grams dietary fiber, 14 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of soluble fiber and protein
  • Provides heart-healthy unsaturated fat
  • Smooth and soft

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Fig and Ricotta Pizza on Cauliflower Crust

Fig and Ricotta Pizza on Cauliflower Crust

Have pizza night without overindulging! This pizza is packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants and fiber and full of flavor. Since there is less cheese and a lighter crust, it is a good choice for those seeking a lower fat diet. Don’t care for figs? Blackberries, peaches, or raspberries would all be delicious alternatives. Serve with a salad or roasted vegetables for a nutritious dinner.

Serves

2

Prep Time

30 minutes

Cook Time

40 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 313 calories, 13 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 96 mg cholesterol, 30 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams dietary fiber, 23 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Packed with antioxidants
  • High in fiber
  • Alternative for those seeking a lower fat diet

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Frittata Muffins

Frittata Muffins

An easy and delicious on-the-go breakfast. Full of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and protein-rich eggs, these frittata muffins are designed to keep you full and satisfied. Those sensitive to dairy can reduce or remove the amount of cheese in the recipe and still enjoy the wonderful flavor and texture. Enjoy these muffins with fresh fruit and a cup of hot tea for a delightful breakfast.

Serves

12

Prep Time

10 minutes

Cook Time

25 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 155 calories, 10 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 200 mg cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrate, 0.5 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of phytonutrient-rich vegetables
  • Good source of protein

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Almond Butter and Apple Baked Oatmeal

Almond Butter and Apple Baked Oatmeal

This recipe is a great smooth breakfast option that offers soluble fiber from the oats and apple, and protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fat from the almond butter. It is a great breakfast to make ahead and use throughout the week; it reheats very well. You can also substitute any type of nut butter, non-dairy milk, pears, or canned peaches.

Serves

12

Prep Time

15 minutes

Cook Time

45 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 326 calories, 17 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 152 mg sodium, 38 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 8 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of soluble fiber and protein
  • Provides heart-healthy unsaturated fat
  • Smooth and soft

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Avocado and Egg Salad

Avocado and Egg Salad

Egg salad is a versatile food for those who need a high-calorie option that is very easy to chew and swallow. The eggs are a good source of high-quality protein and the avocados provide a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. It can be eaten by itself or added to a sandwich, salad, wrap, crackers, or crudités.

Serves

3

Prep Time

10 minutes

Cook Time

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 219 calories, 18 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 186 mg cholesterol, 275 mg sodium, 8 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams total fiber, 8 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of high-quality protein
  • Packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat
  • Easy to chew and swallow

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Breakfast Fruit Crisp

Breakfast Fruit Crisp

A healthy way to have dessert for breakfast! This crisp is lightly sweetened with pure maple syrup and topped with nutritious nuts and oats with no added fat or refined sugar. The topping provides a healthy amount of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fat, while the peaches are a good source of antioxidants and fiber. You can substitute any fruit you like; strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries would also work wonderfully in this dish. Top this delicious crisp with Greek yogurt for added protein or enjoy by itself; either way it is a great, hearty way to start the day!

Serves

5

Prep Time

10 minutes

Cook Time

25 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 295 calories, 16 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 35 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Packed with protein and fiber
  • Provides antioxidants
  • No added fat or refined sugar

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Macaroni and Cheese Muffins

Macaroni and Cheese Muffins

These muffins are packed with calories and a unique way to enjoy a comforting classic. They are not only soft, moist, and easy to chew, but also made in a manageable portion. The muffins can be made ahead of time and frozen for future use. You can alternate the vegetables and use broccoli, spinach, beans, or sweet potato as an alternative healthful vegetable component. This can be used as a main dish or a side. If you want to make extra-large muffins, use an extra-large cupcake pan that makes 6 muffins per pan.

Serves

6-12 (1-2 muffins per person)

Prep Time

30 minutes

Cook Time

20 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 208 calories, 10 grams total fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 136 mg sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram total fiber, 9 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Packed with calories
  • Soft, moist, and easy to chew

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Ginger Thai Rainbow Noodles

Ginger Thai Rainbow Noodles

The rainbow of colors in this dish make it both beautiful and flavorful! High in fiber and antioxidants, this noodle dish is packed with phytonutrients. You can consider making several substitutions to alter the meal: 1) golden beets can be substituted for red beets to lighten the overall color of the dish, 2) vegetable noodles can replace all or some of the rice noodles to boost the nutritional content, and 3) if you do not have a spiralizer, most grocery stores carry pre-spiralized noodles, or you can thinly slice the vegetables. Pair this meal with a cabbage slaw or kale salad for a nutritious dinner option.

Serves

6

Prep Time

30 minutes

Cook Time

10 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 382 calories, 17 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 50 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams dietary fiber, 9 grams protein

Benefits:

  • High in fiber
  • Full of antioxidants
  • Packed with phytonutrients

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Brussels Sprout Harvest Salad

Brussels Sprout Harvest Salad

Perfect for the holiday table as a side dish or any time of year, this salad is full of flavorful phytonutrients. The brussels sprouts and squash provide good sources of fiber and phytochemicals, while the pomegranate seeds are packed with antioxidants. It is an ideal side dish, but could also be served as a main dish paired with a whole grain such as quinoa or barley. For a slightly different twist, sweet potato or pumpkin can be used in place of the squash.

Serves

6

Prep Time

30 minutes

Cook Time

10 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 159 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams protein

Benefits:

  • Full of phytonutrients
  • Good source of fiber
  • Packed with antioxidants

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Coconut Carrot Soup

Coconut Carrot Soup

Warm and filling, this soup is perfect for a soothing meal. Carrots and sweet potatoes are high in fiber and cancer-fighting beta-carotene. Using silken tofu to thicken the soup adds healthy protein, without affecting the flavor. This soup may be an option for those with digestive issues or loss of taste. Pair this soup with a piece of crusty whole-grain bread and spinach salad to make it into a satisfying dinner.

Serves

6

Prep Time

15 minutes

Cook Time

40 minutes

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 245 calories, 18 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams protein

Benefits:

  • High in fiber and beta-carotene
  • May help those with digestive issues or loss of taste
  • Warm and filling

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Why eating healthy matters

Eating healthy is about more than calories

Eating a balanced diet helps you:

  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Maintain muscle strength
  • Get the nutrition you need

If you notice any major changes in your weight, strength, or appetite, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare team.

Taking charge of your health

It can feel like a chore, but paying attention to physical health is important

Bonnie, a lung cancer survivor and longtime advocate, talks about how she adjusted her health and exercise routines to start feeling like herself again.

“The steps I took were not the right ones. I thought more sleep, more rest was the ticket to feeling better and now I tell patients: start walking.”

Eating well to stay well

Cancer can sometimes make it hard to enjoy foods that you used to love. However, there are steps you can take to give your body the nutrients and strength it needs.

Nutrition experts Susan Bratton and Jessica Iannotta offer some tips for eating healthy with cancer.

“Find foods that you can tolerate, and which taste good!”

General physical health tips

Keep it simple—small changes can make a big difference in your overall health

Cancer is a huge change for the body and the mind. But, making little changes to your daily schedule can have a huge impact.

Some cancer treatments can make it difficult to feel hungry or keep food down. A few key ways to keep a healthy weight include to:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day—ideally at least 3 meals and 2 snacks per day
  • Focus on getting enough calories and protein—choose higher-calorie meals by adding more oil, butter, cheese, nuts, gravies, and sauces
  • Choose good sources of protein, such as lean poultry, meat, eggs, fish, nuts, and beans
  • Make shakes, smoothies, and other drinks for more calories, protein, and nutrients. You can use nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and even peanut butter
  • Talk with your healthcare team about exercises you can do to help rebuild muscle tissue that you may have lost

Avoid being too focused on the numbers on the scale. Heal by eating healthy and regaining your strength. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little bit longer for the weight to follow!

Eating a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes has many health benefits, including helping to boost the immune system and fight cancer.

Here are some ideas for how to include more colorful plant foods in your meals:

  • Aim to include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, such as:
    • Yellow peppers (yellow), zucchini (green), cherries (red), carrots (orange), blueberries (blue), and eggplant (purple)
  • Include healthy plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, and legumes (peas, beans, peanuts)

Choose more whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat pasta, bread, cereal, and rice, and foods made with bran, oats, barley, millet, and quinoa.

Talk with your healthcare team about your alcohol use. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), even modest alcohol use may raise a person’s chance of getting cancer.

There are many simple activities that can help improve your fitness and overall health from home.

For example:

  • Walking, yardwork, housework, hiking, stretching, and even dancing can be fun and new ways to include more movement in your lifestyle
  • Slowly build up to a goal of at least 30 minutes of activity per day (or 150 minutes per week)
  • Remember, short bouts of exercise can be combined to reach your daily goal—30 minutes of activity doesn't have to be done all at once!

Ask your healthcare team which activities are best for you.

Coping with other health challenges

Cancer can bring many unexpected and challenging health problems, such as changes in taste, mouth sores, feeling sick to your stomach, and more. Here are some tips for dealing with these new challenges.

Here are some tips for eating and drinking when you have dry mouth or mouth sores:

  • Drink plenty of liquids. You can drink fluids through a straw to keep them away from painful sores in your mouth
  • Skip salty, spicy, acidic, and rough foods, which may hurt to eat
  • Eat foods at room temperature
  • Try soft foods, such as soups, smoothies, yogurt, hot cereals, casseroles, eggs, tender meats, mashed fruits or vegetables, or foods that have been pureed—use sauces, gravy, or broth to soften food
  • Drink high-calorie shakes or smoothies with protein powder, milk—dairy, soy, or rice—nut butter, yogurt, and fruit
  • Use ice chips, sugarless gum, or hard candies to moisten your mouth
  • If you have dry mouth without mouth sores, try a tart liquid or food, such as lemon, lime, and pickles to make saliva start

Other ways to deal with dry mouth or mouth sores:

  • Talk with your doctor about medicines that would help ease the pain of mouth sores
  • Use a small, soft-bristle toothbrush to brush your teeth and tongue gently after each meal and at bedtime
  • Rinse your mouth every 4 to 6 hours or more often, as needed, using this mixture:
    • 1 quart (4 cups) room temperature or cold water
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda, and
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • Do not swallow the mixture
  • Avoid oral (mouth) care products containing alcohol
  • Use a lip moisturizer
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages and tobacco, which will irritate and dry out your mouth

Contact your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • New redness, sores, or white patches in your mouth
  • Bleeding of your gums or mouth
  • Trouble swallowing or pain when you swallow
  • Mouth pain that does not get better after taking pain medicine

Eat foods that smell and look good to you—but avoid favorite foods on the day of or days around your treatment.

  • If red meat tastes strange, replace it with chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, or tofu
  • If foods don’t seem to taste right, and you do not have any mouth soreness, season them with tart flavors, such as lemon, vinegar, or with spices

If foods have a metallic taste, these tips may help:

  • Use plastic utensils instead of metal ones
  • Serve food at room temperature
  • Use sugar-free lemon drops, gum, or mints
  • If you do not have any mouth soreness, add onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, or mint to give foods extra flavor

Salty, bitter, or sour taste:

  • Try adding sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, or honey

Sweet taste:

  • Add 6 drops of lemon or lime juice—or enough drops to dull the sweet taste

To keep your mouth healthy:

  • Rinse 4 times a day using a baking soda mixture of:
    • 1 quart (4 cups) room temperature or cold water
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda, and
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • Do not swallow the mixture
  • Use a non-alcohol-based mouthwash to rinse your mouth and tongue 2 times a day
  • Floss gently at least once per day, but if you haven't flossed regularly before treatment, don't start flossing now
  • Dry your toothbrush before putting it away to prevent bacteria from growing on it

Foods to eat:

  • Soft and easy-to-chew food, such as soups, smoothies, yogurt, warm cereals, casseroles, eggs, tender meats, and well-cooked and mashed fruits and vegetables
  • Use sauces, liquid, or gravy to moisten food
  • Foods at room temperature
  • Small meals frequently (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 large meals
  • Meals that are high in protein and calories or add a nutritional beverage (like a smoothie)

Things to avoid:

  • Foods that are spicy, acidic, or have a rough texture
  • Alcohol and tobacco, which may irritate your throat

Tips:

  • Eat small meals frequently (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 large meals
  • Eat a light meal on the day of your treatment
  • Avoid greasy, spicy foods, and foods with strong smells
  • Eat foods such as crackers, toast, or broth, which may be easier on your stomach
  • Try ginger teas, ginger candies, ginger snaps or cookies, or ginger root steeped in soups or juice

Other ways to deal with nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) or throwing up:

  • Track how often you feel sick to your stomach. This may help your doctor or nurse take better care of your side effects
  • Take anti-nausea medicines as directed. Call your doctor or nurse if your medicine is not working, because you may need a different type

Tips:

  • Avoid foods high in fiber, greasy or fatty foods, raw vegetables, caffeine, alcohol, and sorbitol (a type of sugar) or other products containing sugar-alcohol
  • Limit dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant
  • Stay hydrated — aim for 64 ounces (8 cups) of fluids per day
  • Eat foods high in potassium, such as bananas, apricots, sports drinks, and potatoes (without skins)
  • Eat foods that are high in pectin and easily dissolve in your mouth, such as applesauce, rice, bananas, and oatmeal

Other ways to deal with diarrhea:

  • Try to eat small meals frequently (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 large meals
  • After each bowel movement (passing poop), use wet wipes to gently clean yourself to prevent irritation, soreness, and bleeding

Tips:

  • Stay hydrated - drink at least 8, 8 oz glasses of fluid per day
  • Drink warm liquids, which may help you have a bowel movement
  • Eat foods high in fiber, such as bran, whole grain breads, rice, cereal, and pastas, and fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and nuts
  • Add prune juice, hot lemon water, coffee, or tea into your daily meal plan
  • Limit gas-producing foods and drinks, such as carbonated beverages, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, beans, onions, and raw peppers
  • Avoid drinking through a straw and cut down on chewing gum to limit swallowing air

Other ways to deal with constipation:

  • Stay active—a short walk may help treat and prevent constipation
  • Talk to your doctor if changes to your foods and drinks don’t help you have bowel movements
  • Your doctor may tell you to take a medicine to help

Tips:

  • Eat 5-6 small meals a day instead of 3 large meals - aim to eat at least every 2-3 hours
  • Eat more calories by adding extra butter, oil, mayonnaise, sauces, dressing, gravy, honey, jam, cheese, and nuts to meals
  • Add extra protein by including poultry, meat, fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, beans, and nuts in your meals and snacks
  • Keep high-protein snacks nearby or with you as you travel, such as peanut butter crackers, granola bars, nuts, yogurt, pudding, and cheese
  • Drink high-calorie liquids, such as juice, milkshakes, smoothies, and protein drinks
  • Try nutritional beverages or liquid meal replacements, such as smoothies or shakes, if recommended by your healthcare team

Other ways to deal with loss of appetite:

  • Talk with a registered dietitian certified in oncology nutrition (CSO) about ways to add more calories and protein to your diet
  • Get moving—being active can help your appetite
  • Make mealtime enjoyable—invite friends or family over or play relaxing music
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if your appetite is not getting better or you keep losing weight

Tips:

  • Plan meals ahead of time, and make extra servings to freeze so you have them when you need them
  • Choose foods high in protein and calories
  • Eat 5-6 small meals instead of 3 large meals—frequent meals help keep up your strength
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Try nutritional beverages or liquid meal replacements if recommended by your healthcare team

Other ways to deal with fatigue (feeling weak and tired):

  • Listen to your body: schedule short naps or rest periods throughout the day and get quality sleep at night
  • Keep active: a short walk or exercising for a short time daily can help you feel better
  • Relax: try exercises such as stretching or yoga
  • Track it: details on your fatigue levels can help your healthcare provider identify things that may be contributing to your fatigue
  • Plan your day so you accomplish the most important activities first
  • Accept help from family members and friends

Contact your healthcare team if:

  • You feel too tired to get out of bed for a 24-hour period
  • You feel confused, dizzy, lose your balance, or fall
  • You have problems waking up
  • You have problems catching your breath
  • Your fatigue seems to be getting worse

These may be signs of other problems that need to be treated.

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