5 health tips for cancer caregivers

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By Brittany Cordeiro 

When caring for a loved one, your health and wellness may often take a backseat. All your time and energy is devoted to nurturing your friend or family member. You grab fast food at the hospital or skip meals entirely to stay by his or her side.

But as a caregiver, it's essential you stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one. In addition, you'll be in better shape to fight off diseases like cancer.

"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietician at MD Anderson.

Try these tips to maintain good health with a balanced diet.

Eat every 5-6 hours
As a caregiver, fitting in three balanced meals can be challenging. But, you miss out on vital nutrients when you skip meals. That's why our dieticians recommend eating healthy foods every few hours.

"Your body needs food every five to six hours to function properly," Herndon says. Eating healthy foods at regular intervals refuels your body. It also helps keep your blood sugar and metabolism at healthy levels.

If your next meal is more than six hours away, eat a healthy snack to tide you over. It's also okay to eat a small snack if you get hungry in between meals.

A healthy snack includes two things:

  1. Unrefined carbohydrate, like fruit or whole grain crackers
  2. Protein, like peanut butter or low-fat cheese

Pairing these two together will help you stay energized. Try our healthy snack recipes.  

Eat breakfast daily 
Start your day with a healthy breakfast. It can help you make healthier choices all day long.

A balanced breakfast includes four things:

  1. Protein, like non-fat yogurt or an egg
  2. Whole grains, like whole grain cereal or oatmeal
  3. Fruits and/or vegetables
  4. Healthy fats, like sunflower seeds or chopped nuts

For example, try a slice of whole grain toast, a tablespoon of peanut butter and half a banana. Use this printout to find other healthy breakfast foods.   

Eat more whole grains
Whole grains have lots of fiber. Plus, a diet rich in whole grains may help curb your risk of colon cancer.

Add whole grains in at least one meal or snack every day. You can start by making simple swaps: try whole grain bread and brown rice instead of white.

But whole grains go beyond bread and rice. Oatmeal, quinoa and popcorn also are healthy options. Use this list to make sure you're eating real whole grains.  

Limit red meat and avoid processed meats
Research shows that eating too much red meat can increase your risk of colon cancer. Pork, lamb and beef, including hamburgers, are all red meat.

"To keep cancer risk low, limit the amount of red meat you eat to 18 oz. or less each week," Herndon says.  Eat more fish and chicken, add dairy as a protein or try plant proteins. Watch this video to learn more.

In addition to limiting red meat, it's important to avoid processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and pepperoni.

Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or they have added chemical preservatives. Research shows that eating these meats can raise your risk for colon cancer.

Choose chicken, fish or tofu instead. Get advice on how to avoid processed meats.

Drink more water
Many drinks, like soda and juices, have a lot of sugar and calories. Drinking too many can add up to unwanted weight gain overtime. And, an unhealthy weight puts you at risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

On the flip side, water has no calories. It also helps you stay full longer so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight. Drink at least 64 ounces a day. That's about eight to ten glasses of water. Or start by drinking one less soda and one more glass of water. Get advice on how to drink more water.

Want to learn more, or need help staying on track? Join our Healthy Bites food challenge. It'll help you make healthier food choices that can help reduce your chances of cancer. 

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