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What Is the Best Diet for Cancer Survivors?

A German study reveals that a plant-based diet for cancer survivors may help them live longer. A healthful diet with whole foods is preferred.

Does it matter what you eat after you’ve been treated for cancer? A new study of 1400 German people who had survived colorectal cancer treatment has clarified the best diet for cancer survivors.

Finding the Right Diet for Cancer Survivors:

Investigators compared healthful to unhealthful plant-based diets (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2021). To provide the data, volunteers reported on what they ate. Then the researchers scored their dietary choices according to three different indexes. They developed scores for diet quality overall that took animal foods into account as well. In addition, they had two different measures for plant-based diets–a healthful and an unhealthful approach to plates full of plants. 

What the Research Revealed:

During an average seven years of follow-up, 200 of the volunteers died. Overall, those consuming a plant-based diet rather than one heavy on ham or burgers were significantly less likely to die during that time. Secondly, those eating the most whole grains, legumes, produce, nuts and tea or coffee were more likely to survive. That was in comparison to those whose diets were full of refined grains, desserts, sweetened beverages, fruit juices and potatoes. Although that difference was intriguing, it fell a bit short of statistical significance.

According to the researchers, the statistics show that sedentary people are most likely to suffer the ill effects of an unhealthful plant-based diet. 

They caution further: 

“However, more research is needed to further disentangle the impacts of different qualities of plant-based diets on cancer survivors’ health.”

Choosing a Diet for Cancer Survivors: 

Whether or not you have already been diagnosed with cancer, you can benefit from a healthful plant-based diet. Consider getting protein from plant sources such as nuts, seeds and legumes. Eating plants rich in polyphenols because they have had challenging growing conditions provides you with these protective compounds. You can learn more about how to keep your intestinal microbes healthy and diverse from our interview with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. It is Show 1222: How Can You Optimize Your Microbiome?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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