3 nutrition tips for cancer caregivers

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bowl of fruit.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro

As a cancer caregiver, you face unique challenges. The loved one you're nurturing often requires your time, energy and attention, making it hard to focus on your health and wellness.

But an unhealthy caregiver could do more harm than good. Your loved one needs you to stay in fighting shape, so you can provide the care he or she needs. Plus, maintaining a healthy diet and weight helps lower your cancer risks.  

Not sure where to start?

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

Try these smart food tips to maintain good health.

Dine out less
"Restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories," Herndon says. "Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time."

But how do you avoid restaurant and take out when you're traveling to appointments and spending time away from your kitchen?

  • Make a game plan. Look at your weekly schedule and make a realistic meal plan.
  • Prep meals in advance.Prepare food on the weekends, or when you have a free moment, so it's available when you don't have the time or energy to cook.
  • Pack a lunch. If you know your day will be spent at your loved one's side, pack healthy food to have at your side.
If restaurant food is your only option, Herndon says to pick healthy options off the menu. She also recommends eating smaller portions by splitting your meal in half. This will help trim some of the extra calories, and you'll have a meal for later.

Use this restaurant guide to choose healthier menu options.

Eat more fruits and veggies
Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help curb your risks for cancer and other diseases. They also help keep your immune system in fighting shape so you can stay healthy for your loved one. And, filling two-thirds of your plate with produce will help you maintain a healthy weight.

"I suggest eating a 'rainbow' of fruits and vegetables every day," Herndon says. "You'll get a variety of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, you won't get tired of eating the same foods all the time."

Follow these smart food tips to get the most nutrients out of your produce.

Eat plant-based protein
Eating too much red meat can increase your risks for colorectal cancer. "But, chicken and fish aren't the only healthy protein swaps for red meat. Plant-based proteins are also healthy options," Herndon says.

Swapping plant proteins for animal proteins a few times each week can help you maintain a healthy weight to lower your cancer risks. And, plant protein can help prevent muscle loss.

Herndon suggests trying some of these popular plant protein foods:

  • nuts
  • beans
  • tofu
  • hummus
  • edamame
  • soy yogurt
Watch this video to learn about adding plant-protein foods to your diet.

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. Plus, you'll stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one.

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