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by SusieQ

Cancer Support Specialist's View
20 July 2017 at 16:19

Boosting energy - Food for Thought

Hi everyone,

Yesterday, in our Food for Thought session, CarolineH (online nutritional adviser) and I discussed the various foods that can help boost energy during and beyond cancer treatment. It is estimated that about 80% of people with cancer suffer from fatigue at some level, although for many this will be temporary, and due to the impact of treatment. Often underestimated is the level of fatigue that can carry on post treatment - and this can be for a year or more some times....

There are nutritional steps you can take to ensure you're eating the right balance of foods to help alleviate the fatigue and give you some energy...

(This was the last Food for Thought session for the time being, but we have a 'back catalogue' of transcripts on a range of topics which you may find helpful to read through. It was an informative session, and is likely to be of general interest - hence adding it to the blog today).

As always, if you have any specific nutrition questions, Caroline is always glad to hear from you...

Warm wishes



susieq: Hello and welcome to today's 'Food for Thought' session...

carolineh: Hello Sue,  today’s session is on helping to retain energy - something that 80% of cancer patients will lose during treatment.

susieq: Yes, often underestimated - cancer related fatigue can have many causes - the treatments themselves, anaemia, pain, decreased nutrition, medications, stress and depression. It's often a feature - a chronic fatigue - after treatment finishes, and this can continue for some time....

carolineh: I understand that it can last for up to a year and beyond in some cases which is very difficult for some to cope with understandably. Another reason for fatigue or low energy is impaired cellular function caused by the chemotherapy. I want to look at this with some new research that is being trialled – but, perhaps before that, we could look at ways that people could hopefully help themselves.

susieq: I think that would be valuable - a lady messaged this morning, explaining that as she's on Tamoxifen, she is struggling with fatigue - which gets her down as she's so active normally. This is a common theme expressed by our online visitors.

carolineh: One of the first things that I would recommend is to look at blood sugar control. The aim is to be eating in a way that keeps blood sugar low and stable without highs and lows. Both highs and lows can be really draining on the system and also interfere with good sleep patterns. Poor sleep will obviously add to the problem.

In order to keep blood sugar low and steady, it’s important to eat regularly - i.e. do not skip meals. Make sure that the food that you choose to eat is what they call slow releasing. This means that it will have very little impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.

These foods are the whole grain carbohydrates, protein rich foods, essential fats, nuts and seeds and avoiding sweet foods, refined foods and processed foods. I know this is not always possible but really worth a look at.

susieq: Could you give some examples of whole grain carbohydrates etc?

carolineh: Yes - these are foods like oats, whole meal flour products i.e. bread, quinoa, brown rice and brown pasta as opposed to the white counterparts.

susieq: These ideas make sense....I guess the fatigue may impact on preparation time, though, so making sure you've got the foods in stock...simple meals?

carolineh: Yes, it is a difficult one because fatigue does not lend itself to food preparation so getting foods in before or asking family or friends to help is ideal. You can of course buy oatcakes, wholegrain breads and ready prepared quinoa that takes no preparation at all and can be stored in the cupboard.

susieq: Have you some suggestions for protein rich foods, caroline?

carolineh: Yes of course. We traditionally think of protein as meat, eggs and fish but of course we have all of the peas, beans and lentils as well as quorn and tofu as non-animal forms of protein. Protein is so important in cases of fatigue as it helps to support the immune system as well as helps to keep blood sugar stable and is of a good source of calories. It also helps to prevent muscle mass loss when appetites are low.

susieq: I know you've spoken before about pea protein …

carolineh: Yes- pea protein is a powder that dissolves easily into any food (soup, mashed potatoes smoothies, gravy, porridge are good examples of where it could be used). It gives a good source of protein for those who find food difficult to digest and who have very small appetites. You can buy it from any large super market or health food shop. 1 scoop is a portion.

susieq: I noticed people can buy wholemeal bread with added this a good idea, or just a gimmick?

carolineh: A good idea I would say. I think that it has soya added to it. Other ways that we can support ourselves is to eat foods that are rich in magnesium. Magnesium is needed by every cell in the body to produce energy.

Magnesium is easily lost from the body in times of stress. Magnesium rich foods are dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, figs, apricots, brown rice, buckwheat and millet. It is a mineral that is found in the soil, so the better the soil the food is grown in, the better the magnesium content

susieq: So organically grown?

carolineh: If possible but only if this is possible. If you cannot get organic then go for locally grown if possible then super markets. Also if a lot of the foods are eaten particularly the dark green veg the quantity would help if that makes sense.

susieq: it does...although I guess if appetites are dulled, then they may only fancy small portions...

carolineh: I agree, but you could put some green veg into a smoothie along with some fruit or make them into a soup which are more acceptable if you are not feeling great - rather than a portion on a plate.

susieq: That makes good sense...

carolineh: Another thing that is worth considering is co-enzyme Q10. it is something that we make ourselves but our production is slowed down with age and with stress. Again it is needed by every cell for energy production. I do know that post treatment that many take a supplement of 100mgs for 3 months to help support energy and find it really helpful

susieq: I guess that can be purchased from a health food shop?

carolineh: Always go to a good independent health food shop to get this. Another consideration is B vitamins again needed as the match to fuel the energy production in the cell particularly niacin or vitamin B3. This is found in brown rice, wild rice, sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, and whole wheat products.

susieq: These are excellent suggestions, Caroline...going back to protein...what would you use buckwheat or millet for (or how would you use it?)

carolineh: You can buy buckwheat flakes that can be used like porridge or buckwheat flour that makes really good pancakes. I make buckwheat bread, Millet can be bought in the same way as flakes or flour and used in the same way as millet. It makes a much smoother porridge that oats and is very light on the digestion.

susieq: I haven’t seen those on sale before....sounds a good cereal product to have in...

carolineh: I get mine from Holland and Barret when they have their penny sale or half price sale and stock up. This is also a really good time to but by nuts and seeds - but watch the ‘sell by’ dates.

susieq: A gentleman with prostate cancer wrote in, asking about energy drinks....he primes himself with Lucozade before going for a walk, or an appointment...but should/could he be drinking something better to give him a boost - or does that mess with the insulin levels?

carolineh: Lucozade is very high In sugar and if you were going to burn this off with exercise after drinking that's not too bad but I would not recommend this as a normal routine. He could boost natural energy before exercise with foods like a banana and some nuts or a fruit smoothie with some protein powder added.

susieq: I'm aware that dehydration can make you tired too...possibly (during treatment particularly) there's lots of toxins in the system etc...

carolineh: Yes and drinking is important and I would go for coconut water (sugar free ones) as these are very refreshing, boost immunity and help keep electrolytes balanced. Of course , thirst could be quenched with water or a cup of tea.

We should also look at a supplement called ‘SpaTone’. This is great for those who may be fatigue as a result of iron deficiency. SpaTone is an iron rich pure water that comes in sachet from Boots or a super market or a health food shop. It boosts iron levels and is so easily absorbed and effective, 1 or 2 sachets a day is ideal.

susieq: Good point, especially as anemia can be an issue. I know we’re nearing the end of the session now, but you mentioned some interesting research, …

carolineh: Yes,Sue, research carried out by many cancer hospitals particularly in Manchester by Michelle Harvie and her collegues. It is looking at eating with a calorie restriction a few days before chemo. It has shown that it drastically reduces fatigue but the chemo is still effective at killing off the cancer cells. It works by reducing chemo related stress on the healthy cells. All very exciting and worth keeping up to date with. However this should only be done under supervision or professional advice (message me)

susieq: That sounds an interesting project, I'll have to look out for the research information....thank you for all the 'food for thought sessions'...and transcripts will be kept as a resource for online visitors...and as always, they can message you for advice....


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