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Prevent Cancer: Eat, Drink and be Veggie

An industrialist and a minister both of the same age were admitted to the same hospital, on the same day, at exactly the same stage of gastro oesophgeal malignancy, a cancer that occurs at the junction of the food pipe and the stomach. There was just a day's gap in the two men's surgery. While the industrialist is no longer with us, Mr. Minister is still active and lives on with little change in his lifestyle.

Obviously, the minister's immune system was much stronger than that of the industrialist's says, Dr. Sameer Kaul, oncologist at Apollo Hospital. A good diet and a balanced lifestyle is what makes a strong immune system, which was perhaps lacking in the case of the industrialist, says Dr. Kaul.

According to Dr. Kaul, Cancer does not develop in a day. The final emergence of a full blown clinically detected tumour takes place over a long period of time, through a series of steps - initiation, promotion and progression, collectively called carcinogenesis. Stepwise evolution of tumours allows opportunities for protective action and diet is one of the main protective agents.

Although we Indians are much better equipped to take care of our diet vis a vis cancer, by virtue of being conventionally vegetarian and having abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, the drift towards rising affluence, bringing with it a leaning towards junk food, is unfortunate and needs timely intervention.

Cancer of the lung, stomach, colon, breast and prostate are kept at bay by a diet rich in vegetables and fruits. A 17 - year study conducted in Japan, from 1966 to 1982 confirmed that regular consumption of dark green and deep yellow vegetables and fruits - pumpkin, carrots, spinach, green lettuce, green asparagus, significantly reduced the risk of suffering from these cancers despite simultaneous consumption of smoking, drinking and consuming meat. Haldi (turmeric) is proven as effective in curbing initiated cancers. In fact turmeric has been patented by the Federal Drug Agency (FDA) of USA as useful in healing of cancerous wounds, says Dr. Kaul.

Nutrition has also been shown to play an important role in the management of a patient with cancer, says Dr. Sarath Gopalan, consultant in paediatric gastroenterology and Clinical Nutrition at Pushpawati Singhania Institute. There is a significant protien loss due to an ongoing tissue breakdown and so, it is vital to ensure that the cancer patient gets enough protein supplementation,, he explains. In terminally ill cancer patients, nutrition has a major supportive role in improving quality of life even though it may not influence the overall outcome.

Unfortunately, most medical people have moved to community nutrition and most hospitals, except the big ones, are woefully lacking in diet counselling, says Dr. Gopalan. There is very little awareness about the importance of good nutrition and diet in families with a cancer patient. The best effort would be to give suitable food to the patient like chicken sout and khichdi.

But that need not be, says Poopali Dutta, dietician at Batra Hospital. Diets of cancer patients should ensure that all the nutrients are provided in adequate quantity, but more importantly, it should be in the form that they like. Which means a little modification here and there and you have food that would look after your patient's special needs.

Cancer destroys the healthy tissues and due to its treatment i.e, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, patients loose the ability to consume normal quantities of food and much of their appetite. So their diet should include concentrated sources of energy i.e., a parantha would compensate for two chappatis. Nuts and dried fruits, sugar and jaggery also give good protients and calories in small amounts. Jaggery is also a rich source in Iron. Traditional foods like besan and sooji ladoos, matthis, panjiris also help the patient's taste buds, says Roopali.

A modern way of supplementing a balanced diet, is chemoprevention, which means the patient can be given tablets like Betacarotene, that contain trace elements like Selenium, which is an anti-oxidant, says Dr. Sameer Kaul.

Food for Thought

  1. It is not necessary to have a three meal pattern if the appetite is small. Have small frequent meals.
  2. Have all the meals in a sitting position as far as possible and keep sitting for a while after your meal. Walk a little before getting into bed. It helps settling the stomach.
  3. Starting the day with one teaspoon of honey and lemon or a glass of water helps wash away the acidity after 12 hours of overnight fasting.
  4. Ice cubes, ice creams (no nuts or flavours), chilled juices, cold milk, cold lassi, chilled lemon juice helps a patient get over nausea and vomiting.
  5. Loose motions, which are common with medication can be helped with dahi, lassi, banana, steamed apple, apple juice which help bind the motion.
  6. Oral blisters are also very common. These should be tackled by increasing the intake of fresh fruits, soothing drinks like coconut water. If it becomes impossible to eat salted foods, one can consume chilled custard, jellies, chilled homemade desserts which can be quite nourishing without irritating the blisters.

Your good eating guide
A balanced meal would consist of two chappatis, one katori dal, one katori dahi and a vegetable dish. Make the food attractive with:

  1. 2 Kulchas with khatta channa, with lassi and salad.
  2. Vegetarian noodles with stir-fried chicken and an ice cream.
  3. A burger bun, paneer or chicken patty with mayonnaise salad and milk shake.
  4. One pizza base topped with vegetables or chicken, keema or paneer with cheese and a glass of fruit juice.
  5. Channa dal pulao with mixed vegetable raita.
  6. Vegetable pulao with dahi bhalla.
  7. One bowl of khichdi with mixed vegetable raita.

    Some words of Caution:

  8. When a patient's blood count is low, avoid raw vegetables, fruits and fresh juices.
  9. Although it is a good idea to consume dal in the form of soups, in dal or non-vegetarian soups, the dal or chicken should be blended into it as proteins are not water soluble. A clear channa or chicken soup provides only salts and no nourishment.

Cancer What causes it
Mouth Alcohol, Paan
Stomach Salt, pickled vegetables,
fried food, smoked fish
Pancreas Meat (grilled)
Liver Alcohol
Large Intestine Red Meat, Animal Fat, Alcohol

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