Eating Your Way Healthy: how diet and exercise can help you fight cancer
Recent reports on NPR and MSNBC are highlighting the benefits of healthy eating and exercise for cancer patients based on several new research papers. The Healthy Eating & Living Program at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center has promoted healthy eating since conducting the Women’s Healthy Eating & Living (WHEL) Study between 1995 and 2006.
We’ve asked Vicky Newman, MS, RD, associate clinical professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Department of Family & Preventive Medicine three questions about how nutrition can affect cancer patients.
Question: How far ahead of the American Cancer Society’s recommendations was the Healthy Eating Program?
Answer: The UCSD Healthy Eating & Living Program has been helping cancer patients change to a healthier diet since 1995. While the primary focus of the WHEL Study was on diet, the focus of the Healthy Eating & Living Program has broadened to include exercise and weight control as all of these lifestyle factors are increasingly being shown through research to influence risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Q: In the MSNBC article, Dr. Kucuk of Emory University states that when it comes to dealing creating a course of treatment for cancer patients “Usually the last thing on their (the doctor’s) mind is to talk about diet and exercise.” At what point do patients at Moores Cancer Center enter The Healthy Eating Program – is it an integral part of their treatment plan?
A: At Moores, patients are encouraged to attend an introductory lecture offered each month called “Fighting Cancer with Your Fork.” Participants learn about dietary factors that strengthen the body’s immune and detoxification systems, and are provided with practical tips for optimizing intake of protective plant foods with BIG color and STRONG flavors because these contain the most plant protectors. Moores patients are also encouraged to attend monthly cooking classes in our Healing Food Kitchen where they learn to prepare and are able to taste delicious health-promoting recipes. During treatment, patients are encouraged to consult with the Oncology Dietitian. And after treatment, patients are encouraged to enroll in our Healthy Eating & Living Program, which provides the support and guidance of their own personal coach by telephone to help them make long-term changes to a healthier diet and more active lifestyle that will not only support their health, but also help them to maintain a healthy weight.
Q: What advice do you have for someone facing a cancer diagnosis about where to begin thinking about their diet and exercise?
A: The literature clearly shows that a healthy diet and regular physical activity are both important in reducing the risk of recurrence, and in supporting quality of life during treatment so the best advice is to begin working toward the diet and physical activity guidelines right away. Just remember, slow and steady in the right direction. This is where coaching can really help in setting short-term, attainable goals that are reachable and then to keep building on those. If you are at three vegetable servings daily, make a goal to get to four servings. When you have adjusted to that goal, consider increasing the goal to five vegetable servings daily. And begin adding BIG color and STRONG flavor vegetables and fruits as soon as possible because these are the ones with most health-promoting benefits.
With regard to exercise, think of wearing a pedometer. Start by recording usual steps daily. Set a goal for increasing your daily steps by 1,000 daily until you get to the 10,000 steps recommended. Even if fatigued during treatment, move as much as possible. Just walking around the house during each commercial break from your favorite television program is better for your body than continual sitting. And some very interesting research is being reported showing the health benefits of many small bouts of exercise being even more protective of health than sitting all day and only exercising vigorously once.
For more information on our research, programs, and services, visit our website www.healthyeatingucsd.org