3 Nutrition Tips for Cancer Survivors

Nutrition Diva gives three nutritional steps you can take to keep cancer from coming back.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #385

This week marks the observation of National Cancer Survivors Day and we have a lot to celebrate. Thanks to steady advances in diagnosis and treatment, there are now more cancer survivors than ever before—more than 32 million survivors world-wide. And the life expectancy of cancer survivors is longer than it's ever been. This is certainly cause for celebration. But at the same time, cancer survivors also live with a certain anxiety that their cancer could someday come back. 

Lifestyle choices have a big impact on cancer risk—and that's just as true for survivors as it is for those who have never had cancer. Lifestyle isn't the only factor, of course. But it's the one that we have the most control over. And exercising that control is an excellent way to diffuse our anxiety over the things we don't have much say over. 

See also: Can the right diet prevent cancer?

The good news is that the things you can do to reduce your risk of a cancer recurrence will also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a host of other common conditions. The other good news is that the things that reduce your risk are pretty simple. You don't need need to become a raw foods vegan or take all kinds of supplements or start drinking weird juices or teas.

In fact, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, reducing your risk of recurrence boils down to three pretty basic things.

1. Eat Well

Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect, just decent. You know the drill by now: Eat plenty of colorful vegetables and fruit, legumes, and fish. Get your fat from healthy sources like nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Limit your intake of red and processed meat, refined grains, sweets, and alcohol. That’s it. Everything else—all those cancer-fighting super foods and complicated dietary protocols—are just window-dressing.

See also: Ask the Diva: Can a Macrobiotic Diet Help Treat Cancer?

In one study of colon cancer survivors, those who followed the “prudent” dietary pattern I just outlined were three times more likely to be cancer free after five years than those who ate the standard (and sorry) “Western” diet.

The features of the prudent dietary pattern, by the way, are precisely the same healthy habits we track with the Nutrition GPA app you’ve heard me talk about before. So if you want to get a sense of how well you’re doing, look for the Nutrition GPA in iTunes and the Google Play store.

2. Stay Physically Active 

There’s also strong evidence that regular physical activity can significantly improve survival and quality of life in cancer patients (and everyone else). This can be as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day but if you’re willing and able to do more, you’ll get even more benefit.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.