Healthy Living for Cancer Survivorship

Healthy Toast for Cancer Survivorship

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. However, as cancer survivorship increases, there is more research being done to help these individuals live fulfilling lives. A balanced diet with physical activity is key to healthy survivorship. By focusing on one goal at a time, slowly integrating healthy behaviors will result in a nourishing life and wholesome survivorship.

In 2010, the USDA created MyPlate to replace the food pyramid as part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While this replacement for the outdated carb-heavy food pyramid is a major improvement, it was not designed with cancer prevention in mind.

This is where The New American Plate comes in. The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) created The New American Plate, a scientifically-sound eating philosophy, to help you enjoy your meals while emphasizing foods that promote health and reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Healthy eating is paramount for individuals touched by cancer because it fuels the body with nutrients that people need to heal, grow, and thrive.

Both the AICR and the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend that people with cancer get frequent physical activity and eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with limited meat and alcohol consumption. These guidelines focus on getting nutrients directly from foods rather than from supplements.

What does the plate look like?

AICR’s New American Plate designates two-thirds of the plate as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (beans) with the other third of the plate as animal protein. In other words, the diet should be highly focused on plant sources rather than animal sources. If you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure to include plant-based sources of protein as part of your plate.

Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Legumes, & Nuts

The current recommendation is to eat at least five servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits per day. Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, which are help to promote health. Some examples of phytonutrients are carotenoids, lycopene, glucosinolates, and phytosterols. These phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables account for the different colors in these foods, so creating a colorful plate will increase the number of phytonutrients consumed.

Fiber is another a key component in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber helps to regulate bowel movements and provides fuel for the microorganisms that live in our gut. This helps maintain a healthy gut and helps to protect against the growth of cancer cells.

Whole grains are an important component of the plate, as opposed to processed, refined grains. Whole grains contain all parts of the grain seed, as well as naturally-occurring B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some examples of whole grains include quinoa, brown rice, barley, farro, and millet. When shopping for groceries, whole grains can be identified by looking at the ingredients. A whole-grain product will have “whole-wheat,” “whole-oat,” “stone-ground,” “whole-ground” as the first ingredient on the label. Additionally, you may see labels provided by the U.S.-based Whole Grain Council to let customers know how much of a company’s product contains whole grains.

Animal Protein

Good sources of animal protein include poultry, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy. The type of protein that should be limited to 18 ounces per week is red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb. Cancer survivors are more susceptible to heart disease, and consuming high amounts of red meat increases the risk of heart disease. We at CFYL encourage all our readers to try and aim for several meatless meals throughout the week, substituting beans, soy, and nuts for animal protein. Including plant-based proteins in a meal will help increase daily fiber intake, as well as provide healthy sources of protein in the diet.

Physical Activity

Although fatigue is often a common side effect of cancer treatments that can linger into survivorship, increasing physical activity has shown to increase energy levels and actually reduce fatigue. Physical activity can also help to maintain bone health, muscle strength, and body weight. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, such as brisk walking, and then increase to 60 minutes of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

One study of breast cancer patients even showed that consumption of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, combined with 30 minutes of walking 6 days a week, resulted in a 50% decrease in mortality after 7 years. Authors of this study concluded that fruit and vegetable consumption + exercise are an unbeatable combination for survivorship!



Water is extremely important for health, as all our cells need water to function properly, regulate our body temperature, act as a cushion for our internal organs, and protect our brains from sudden impacts. Sugary beverages such as sodas should be avoided; even fruit juices should be limited. A good alternative to fruit juices and soda is putting fruit, vegetable slices, and herbs into sparkling or still water to give it flavor.

It is also recommended that alcohol be avoided or kept to a minimum, as there is a consistent link between increased cancer risk and alcohol, regardless of whether it’s beer, wine, or distilled liquor.

Pomegranate Water

Other Recommendations

Any kind of tobacco use is associated with increased cancer risk as well. In addition, it is important to try and limit salt intake, especially from processed meats and foods such as canned, frozen, or fast food items. An alternative would be to look for reduced-sodium canned goods and frozen items without any added salt or sugars. Fast foods, including hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and french fries, along with other processed foods are high in calories but low in nutrients, which is why they should be avoided or consumed only in limited amounts.

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