How To Find Nutrition & Cancer Resources on the Internet

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

FEBRUARY 10, 2023

Woman preparing meal with fruits and vegetables

It seems that everyone has strong opinions about cancer and nutrition. There are countless books and articles about how and what to eat to avoid cancer as well as many targeted at people who have already been diagnosed. One can read about extreme diets with lots of rules or others that are less rigid and focused on recipes that might actually taste good during chemotherapy. If you are interested in learning more about nutrition — or find all of the related information baffling — you might consider meeting with a dietician who can make suggestions for your specific situation.

There are a few simple conclusions about nutrition and cancer that are helpful to keep in mind. As far as we know, there is not one food or a group of foods that can prevent or cure cancer. The same recommendations that we have always heard remain true: eat more plant-based meals and less red meat; avoid processed foods; limit alcohol consumption; concentrate on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Whether or not it makes any difference to your cancer experience, these are good for your general health. Finally, when you are in the midst of active treatment, you need to eat protein. As the chemo or radiation is killing cancer cells, it is also damaging healthy ones that need protein to rebuild. Moreover, to include here my personal favorite: sugar and dairy are not intrinsically dangerous for cancer patients. Like everything else, moderation is the key.

When I discuss nutrition with my patients, I like to remind us both that, even without cancer, life is too short to live on only carrot and celery sticks. What I mean, of course, is that many of us derive a great deal of pleasure from food: thinking about it, shopping for it, cooking and then enjoying it. While it is important to consider nutrition and to generally avoid foods that we know are unhealthy, it is equally important to savor the good things in life. An occasional large order of onion rings or a chocolate sundae is not going to hurt us.

Most of us turn to the internet for more information, and we can be certain that our friends and family are binging on searches like “foods for cancer patients,” eager to share what they learn with us. Since we know that the internet operates much like the Wild West, this is a reminder that there is plenty of incorrect and even potentially dangerous information about cancer and food. It is important to consider what you are reading and who or what posted it.

Begin by noting the source of the posting. Did it come from a reputable cancer center, university or public health group? An easy trick is to rely on website addresses that end with .org, .gov, .net or .edu. In contrast, beware of those that end with .com; they are more likely to come from a commercial company, social media or non-medical publications. Especially beware of anything that promises a cure, a quick fix, relief from a troubling symptom or side effect. Avoid links to products that may be expensive and useless.

Although personal testimonials that support a product or strategy can be engaging and impressive, don’t believe that it will work the same way for you. You don’t know any of the details of the individual’s circumstances, and you don’t even know if the report is true. Note the date of publication, as it is also possible that the information is outdated.

Check the credentials of the writer the same way that you checked the URL. You are looking for someone who has the right letters after their name to be an authority on nutrition and cancer. LDN is a registered dietician; CSO is a certified specialist in oncology nutrition. Other titles like RN, PhD, MD, PA or NP enhance legitimacy of the author.

There are many informative and legitimate websites with helpful nutrition resources for cancer patients. You can check out some of the following:

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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