( By Dr.(Mrs.) Nandini Sarwate )

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Healthy eating guide

So far, this booklet has dealt with the eating problems of people with cancer who have lost weight or have poor appetites. However, there are many people with cancer who never lose weight or have any difficulties with eating. For others, eating problems are only a temporary effect of their treatment and most of the time they can eat well.

This Healthy Eating section is sound nutritional advice for people with cancer, but with no weight loss or eating problems, or for anyone without eating problems who wants to follow a healthy diet, live a fuller life and feel better. In the long term, this diet may reduce the chances of getting heart disease and diabetes as well as certain types of cancer.

Some of the advice given in this section may seem contradict that given in the Building-up Diet in Part One. The advice there is for specific groups of people with cancer who are eating very little or are losing weight and is not recommended for people who can eat normally.

Recently, there have been several reports concerned with improving the diet of people of Britain. The following section is a summary of that advice.

Watch your weight

Try to maintain your weight within the normal range for your height (your family doctor can advise you on your normal weight). If you are overweight, reduce your energy intake by eating less fat and sugary foods. This allows your body to use up its surplus energy, which is stored as fat.

Eat less fat

Many experts agree that we eat too much fatty food. Instead of getting our energy from starchy foods like bread and potato, we rely too much on animal fats such as red meat, eggs, butter and cheese.

What you can do to eat less fat

  • Avoid sweetmeats (mithai) which contain khoya (mawa) and fat.
  • Use of fat and oil in cooking should not be more than 2 table spoons (30 gm).
  • Choose a diet rich in plant-based foods.
  • If you have to, eat more fish and poultry meat rather than red meat.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off all the fat you can. Remove the skin from poultry.
  • Eat less fried food bake, grill, steam or poach food instead.
  • Buy skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
  • Try the low-fat varieties of margarine, butter, yogurt and cheese.
  • Cut out or reduce the number of fatty take-aways (e.g. fish and chips, burgers, sausages) that you eat.
  • Avoid snacks which are high in fat, such as crisps and biscuits.

Avoid Soda bicarbonate (baking soda)

Sodium bicarbonate is very harmful for you. It activates regeneration of cancer cells. It is better to avoid those foods which contain baking soda, like bakery products or fruit-salt (Eno). Do not use baking soda in your cooking.

Eat more vegetables, fruit and cereals

Vegetables, fruit and cereals are all rich in fibre and vitamins. Fibre is sometimes called roughage. It is the part of the food, which passes through the body without being completely absorbed, and keeps the gut healthy.

Some experts say we should be eating much more fibre than we eat now.

Some research has shown that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing cancer, so it may be helpful to try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables each day, particularly dark green, dark yellow or orange vegetables like spinach, broccoli, parsnips, swede and carrots. These contain substances called antioxidants which can play a part in preventing cancer from developing. Tea and green tea also contain antioxidants.

High-fibre foods

  • Fresh fruit with skins left on where possible.
  • Fresh vegetables, including potatoes, especially with skin left on.
  • Wholegrain cereal, for example, brown rice.
  • Wholemeal pasta and noodles.
  • Wholemeal bread.
  • Dried fruit, especially prunes.
  • High fibre breakfast cereals like muesli, Weetabix, bran flakes or porridge.

Cut down on Sugar

Sugar contains no useful nutrients apart from energy, and we can get all the energy we need

from healthier sources. We eat a lot of sugar per person per year! Most of this is unnecessary and is partly responsible for tooth decay and obesity.

  • Learn to do without sugar in hot drinks or switch to an artificial sweetener.
  • Cut down on cake, sweets and chocolates.
  • Have fresh fruit instead of pudding. Sweeten stewed fruit with sweeteners.
  • Choose foods with less or no added sugar for e.g., tinned fruit in natural juices and low calorie drinks. Try sugar free jellies, diet yogurt.

Cut down on Salt

Most people eat much more salt than they need. Most foods are salted during cooked and manufactured foods contain a lot of added salt. Some experts say we should all aim to cut down our overall salt intake by about a quarter.

  • Reduce the amount of salt in your cooking and try to avoid adding it at the table. This will also help to reduce your blood pressure if it is high.
  • Cut down on snacks with high salt content like crisps or salted nuts.
  • Try to use low salt manufactured products, and low salt or un-salted butter or spreads.
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