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Because cancer treatments affect healthy cells as well as cancer cells, it's important to give your body the tools it needs to rebuild and stay strong, and the best way to do this is through the food you eat. "They used to tell cancer patients to eat anything that sounded good -- whether it was milkshakes or pudding -- just to keep your weight on. But it really does matter what foods you're eating," says Jennifer Reilly, senior nutritionist for the Cancer Project. Give yourself every advantage you can during treatment by adding these superfoods to your diet.
To keep nausea at bay, snack on whole wheat toast. You'll not only keep your stomach from churning, you'll give yourself a good dose of fiber, which the body uses to keep your digestive tract healthy. It's also good as a remedy for diarrhea. Eat dry if possible, or with a small pat of butter.
Recommended serving size: 1 slice; 79 caloriesGinger
Hailed by herbalists for its ability to ease stomach upset and used by the Chinese as a nausea remedy for at least 2,000 years, ginger is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Use fresh grated ginger in stir-fries, soups, and hot or cold tea, or sprinkle powdered ginger over melon or into rice. Also check your health food store for crystallized ginger, a sweet treat that you eat like candy.
Recommended serving size: As needed, not to exceed 4 grams per day
Making sure you get enough of the right kind of protein (preferably not from meat or dairy) is essential to keeping your strength up. Almond butter is a delicious source of protein (5 grams in one serving) -- so tasty you'll enjoy it even if you're dealing with nausea, taste change, or loss of appetite as a side effect of your treatment. Almonds also contain benzaldehyde, which researchers in Japan have demonstrated to be toxic to cancer cells. Try spreading it on whole-grain toast or an apple for a high-energy snack that also delivers a healthy dose of fiber.
Recommended serving size: 2 tablespoons; 200 caloriesLentils
Packing 9 grams of protein and 7.8 grams of fiber in each serving, lentils are pint-sized powerhouses. While all beans are good sources of protein and fiber, lentils are among the easiest to digest and are a good way to increase your fiber intake without the usual accompanying gas and bloating. Lentils can also be cooked to be as bland or as flavorful as you like, accommodating a wide range of tastes. To serve, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes), then drain and toss with olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and diced raw carrots to make a simple lentil salad.
Recommended serving size: 1/2 cup cooked; 115 calories
This potent plant is loaded with allicin, an allyl sulfide, which has been shown to destroy cancer cells, reduce the rate of cell division, and support the immune system. Ironically, these sulfides are also what give garlic its trademark smell. Allicin is activated by exposure to air, so let raw garlic sit after chopping for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle garlic into soups or stir-fries or over salads. You can also mix cloves in with the almond butter you eat on whole wheat toast.
Recommended serving size: 3 cloves a day -- studies suggest that the more you eat the betterSpinach
This dark green is rich in folates, which helps your body build healthy cells. It's also a great source of lutein, an antioxidant that is believed to help significantly reduce incidences of cancer. Eat it raw with sliced mushrooms, slivers of red onion, crumbled hard-boiled egg and your favorite dressing; or simply saute it with a little olive oil, chopped garlic, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Recommended serving size: 1 cup raw, 10 calories; or 1/2 cup cooked, 21 calories
Kate Hanley is a freelance writer who specializes in wellness. Visit her at msmindbody.com.
Originally published on LHJ.com, August 2006.