A healthy diet helps seniors with cancer feel energized, recover from treatment and fend off infection. These benefits help seniors with mesothelioma cope with cancer symptoms and chemotherapy side effects.
Mesothelioma is a cancer primarily diagnosed in seniors. Asbestos exposure causes more than 80 percent of the cases. A decades-long latency period of 20 to 50 years accounts for incidence among the aging population. The most common treatment for mesothelioma is chemotherapy. A senior diagnosed in an early stage of mesothelioma often qualifies for surgery along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to improve chances of long-term survival.
Consuming plenty of calories and protein helps seniors undergo cancer treatment and recovery. As long as enough calories and protein are ingested, the body will get what it needs to repair and recover. Most seniors need between 1,200 and 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight. Roughly 30 percent of our calories should come from protein. Another 30 percent should come from healthy fats such as avocados and coconut oil. The remaining 40 percent should come in the form of carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits and unrefined grains.
Animal sources of protein such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are complete proteins that contain all the amino acids needed to rebuild damaged tissue, maintain muscle mass and produce enzymes, hormones and red blood cells. Plant proteins such as grains, beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables are incomplete and must be combined with other plants or animal proteins. Despite their partial protein content, other nutrients in plants help the immune system identify and kill cancer cells.
How much protein should a senior eat? Divide your weight by two. The resulting number is the rough estimate of grams of protein you should eat daily. For example, if your weight is 160 pounds, you would require 80 grams of daily protein.
If you want to go beyond basic mesothelioma nutrition, certain foods are associated with cancer prevention and helping the immune system fight cancer.
What Specific Foods Help Fight Cancer?
While calories and protein sustain bodily function, nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts possess anticancer properties. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals and compounds called phytonutrients (“phyto” is Greek for plant).
Research has identified more than 10,000 phytonutrients and some experts estimate another 10,000 more exist. Phytonutrients give plants their color and offer protection from insects, germs and other threats. Some of these nutrients, such as lycopene and resveratrol, help prevent cancer and show anticancer effects in scientific studies.
Try the following vegetables, fruits and spices to help your immune system fend off cancer.
- Allium vegetables, including garlic, leeks, yellow and green onion, are among the most potent anticancer foods. Garlic is the most powerful of the bunch, according to research.
- Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and red cabbage, contain anticancer nutrients.
- Other powerful anticancer vegetables include spinach, beet root, asparagus and green beans.
- Blueberries, goji berries, grapes, pomegranate, dragonfruit and avocados contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that boost immune function and help control cancer growth and spread.
- Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that fight cancer and lower inflammation.
- Turmeric, used in curry dishes, contains curcumin, a compound that inhibits genetic damage that causes cancer, tumor growth and metastasis.
- Oregano is high in antioxidants and contains quercetin, a compound that slows cancer growth.
- Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a compound that kills breast and bladder cancer cells in lab studies.
Eat a variety of plant foods to get diverse phytonutrients. Choosing different colored fruits and vegetables will help you consume different nutrients.
Seniors coping with cancer experience good and bad days as some days they enjoy high energy and a good mood, while others they cope with fatigue or pain. Use these good days to food prep so that meals are prepared. Chop vegetables and fruits to store in airtight container in the fridge. This ready-to-use produce will come in handy for smoothies, salads and side dishes. Create meals that easily reheat such as soups and casseroles.
The following recipes use similar ingredients, allowing you to make several different meals without overspending or overloading your fridge and pantry.
Packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory fats, this smoothie counteracts inflammatory pain and boosts immune function.
- 1 banana
- ½ cup blueberries
- ½ cup full-fat yogurt or milk (dairy, coconut or almond milk)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1-2 scoops protein powder of your choice
Put ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. Pour smoothie over a glass of ice to enjoy chilled.
This salad combines a variety of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds to provide diverse phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. There are no exact measurements. You can make this salad big enough to serve as a meal or as a side salad. Pre-chop the vegetables and store in a container in the fridge for easy assemblage.
- Leafy greens of your choice (red romaine, spinach, cabbage or kale)
- Yellow onion
- Mushrooms of your choice
- ½ avocado
- Sunflower seeds
Mash avocado with a few tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil to use as dressing, or process it in a blender for smooth consistency. Toss other ingredients with dressing in a large bowl and serve. Season with salt, pepper or herbs.
Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup
This nutrient-dense soup is infused with vitamins, minerals and anticancer phytochemicals. The whole chicken provides protein and healthy fat, and the latter helps you absorb certain nutrients including lycopene and beta-carotene. Soup is easy to swallow and digest, making it a good choice for chemotherapy patients.
- 1 whole chicken (organic, free-range if available)
- 2 quarts filtered water
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 leeks, finely chopped
- ½ cup mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup cauliflower, coarsely chopped
- Season with 1 teaspoon oregano, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice
Place whole chicken in a large stock pot with water, vinegar and salt. Bring to a boil, and remove foam that rises to the top. Add vegetables and herbs. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until chicken is cooked.
Take out whole chicken and remove the meat. Discard bones. Chop meat and place back into pot. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and then serve.
Eating healthy food makes us feel better. Stock your kitchen with healthy foods and gather recipes that make eating well easy. Improved energy, mood and quality of life are worth the effort it takes to eat healthy, especially for seniors coping with cancer.
Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor, member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine and graduated from Rollins College in Florida.
Boivin, D., Lamy, S., Lord-Dufour, S., et al. (2009). Antiproliferative and antioxidant activities of common vegetables: A comparative study. Food Chemistry, 112(2): 374-380. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.05.084