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Eating Well - How Do Vulnerable People Stay Strong During These Times?

The Cancer Society has had lots of questions from people with cancer about their lowered immunity and what that means in the fight against COVID-19.

Dr Chris Jackson says that people who have had cancer surgery or cancer treatment in the last three months may have some immune suppression.

“Maintaining social distance and safe hygiene through handwashing, are the best ways for all of us to protect ourselves in this time. Eating well and keeping active helps boost our immunity,” says Dr Jackson.

And the Cancer Society has lots of advice for people going through cancer treatment on how to eat well. They’ve just completed a new booklet and website resources on this.

The Cancer Society worked closely with oncologists, dietitians, people with experience of cancer, health researchers and community groups to land on the key information needed.

“This is a general guide which supports the advice from cancer specialists and dietitians,” says Sophie Carty a contributor to the book. Sophie Carty is a dietitian and is the Health Promotion Manager at the Cancer Society Otago/Southland.

“Cancer and its treatment place extra demands on you and some side effects of treatment mean a change in the way people have eaten before. The booklet helps with practical tips on healthy eating during treatment.”

“In fact, this is important advice for everyone. As well as keeping you as healthy as possible and keeping your immunity up, healthy food and keeping active helps with cancer prevention.

“Nutrition and weight are the biggest cause of cancer after smoking according to the World Cancer Research Fund.”

“Many of us are currently thinking about how we cook and where we find healthy food at affordable prices. Using things like pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and beans, are inexpensive and healthy sources of protein. And if we can’t afford cauliflower, there’s always carrots, cabbage and kale.”

The Cancer Society would like to see a future where healthy affordable food is prioritised. They say pandemics like COVID-19 only make this more important.

“Demands for fresh fruit and vegetable delivery has increased, more people are growing their own vegetables, and we are all cooking from home more often!”

So what advice do they give for helping boost your immune system and improve cancer prevention and survival? According to the Cancer Society’ we should:

Enjoy a variety of healthy foods every day including:

· plenty of vegetables and fruit

· whole grain foods naturally high in fibre (breads, crackers, breakfast cereal, rice, and pasta)

· some milk and milk products (cheese and yoghurt) or alternatives that are mostly low or reduced fat

· some lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds or fish, chicken and/or red meat* with the fat removed

· If choosing red meat, eat less than three portions or 350-500 g of cooked red meat a week and eat very little or avoid processed meat such as bacon, luncheon, ham, sausages, and salami

Choose and/or prepare foods and drinks:

· with unsaturated fats such as canola, olive oil or avocado instead of saturated fats like butter, coconut or cheese

· that are low in salt (sodium)

· has little or no added sugar such as fresh fruit rather than juice

· that are mostly whole rather than processed, such as potatoes rather than crisps

· make plain water your first choice over other drinks.

These recommendations are based on the NZ Eating and Activity Guidelines and the World Cancer Research Fund. See the Cancer Society’s new information here:

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