Nutrition Consultants Create Specialized Diets
By Jen Nolan, BS, MS, ONC
A cancer diagnosis or a chronic illness can be overwhelming, and patients are often faced with a barrage of decisions about treatments, therapies, doctors, and so on. In conventional care, that could mean invasive treatments and medication-induced side effects. Luckily, nutrition can be an integral part of disease care and prevention and can make a tremendous impact, and can even help mitigate the harsh side effects of conventional treatment. Nutrition is not a stand-alone therapy but a wonderful integration and non-invasive use of “food as medicine.”
As oncology nutrition consultants, we work with clients to create individualized metabolic-based nutrition therapy programs to complement the treatment of cancer or other chronic illness as well as offer help to those individuals looking to prevent disease.
Taking a metabolic approach to nutrition places a focus on regulating blood sugar and what we call “metabolic flexibility,” which balances the blood sugar roller coaster so many are on. Extreme highs and lows in blood sugar cause that late afternoon crash where folks are either reaching for coffee or a sugary snack or looking for a place to take a nap. Sound familiar? The goal is to have sustained energy throughout the day.
Oncology nutrition consultants are not doctors, and we do not treat disease. However, we can use specific tests such as lab work, microbiome testing, and genetics to help develop the best nutrition and lifestyle plans for our clients. For example, if we see elevated inflammatory markers, we may encourage eating wild-caught fatty fish more frequently. Or, if certain electrolytes are low, we can use that information to encourage hydration and sodium, potassium, and magnesium rich foods and drinks. Avocado with lime juice and Himalayan sea salt, anyone?
While test results are a helpful way to personalize a nutrition plan, a simple food log is most important. Knowing what our clients are eating is critical to accurately evaluate their nutrition status and what changes may be most beneficial.
Following a low-carbohydrate, nutrient-rich, and whole-food-based diet is a good place for most people to start. Easy adjustments include adding an array of colorful fibrous vegetables and nutrient-dense foods such as healthy fats from olive oil and high-quality proteins.
It is largely important to avoid inflammatory foods such as restaurant food, processed food, sugar, and harmful oils such as canola, soy, and peanut oil. Cancer cells tend to thrive in an inflammatory environment, and eating these foods just adds fuel to the fire.
We know cancer cells love glucose as their primary fuel source, so taking out processed food and sugar is critical. Food is a powerful tool in disease prevention, treatment, recovery, post-recovery, and side effect mitigation from various treatments.
Managing side effects in a conventional way often means using medication, which can cause additional side effects that are answered with more medication. Instead, food can be an effective and non-invasive alternative. Nausea can often be lessened by drinking ginger tea and using this incredible spice in food, for example.
Every individual is different, and our approach is to meet everyone where they are. Some clients may come to us eating a Standard American Diet, while others have a very advanced nutritional knowledge and are already eating a diet of organic foods that is very low in sugar. The two plans for those individuals would look very different, especially in the beginning.
Using a terrain approach, we don’t simply look at nutrition. Instead, our oncology nutrition consultants look at all the systems, including digestion, circulation, blood sugar balance, and mental and emotional well-being. Once we know the areas that are most important to that client, we get to work. For example, if we know someone has poor digestion, we may add a variety of “live” foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut. We also encourage pre-biotic fibrous foods such as pistachios, leeks, and garlic.
A metabolic approach to nutrition, and medical care in general, encompasses the terrains outlined in “The Metabolic Approach to Cancer,” which was co-written by Jess Higgins Kelley, Founder of Remission Nutrition, and Dr. Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health. This philosophy guides what we do.
Our goal is to address each of the 10 terrain areas to make them as healthy as possible, which makes the body less hospitable for cancer to grow and thrive. We recommend all clients read the book as part of their healing journey. There is also a Terrain 10 quiz on the Remission Nutrition website, www.remissionnutrition.com, to help determine which terrains rise to the top for you.
Flexibility is key to creating a nutrition plan for cancer patients and others. Hurdles can present themselves and require trouble shooting. Clients often think a program is set in stone, but the plan can change week-by-week or even day-by-day, depending on a number of factors.
We love empowering our clients and their families to implement nutritious food and lifestyle choices. Nutrition is something we can control when everything else feels very much out of control. And the best part is that people usually feel much better when they are eating better and making other lifestyle improvements. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
Food truly is medicine and can play an important role in recovering from and preventing disease.
Jen Nolan is Owner and Oncology Nutrition Consultant at Remission Nutrition, which has provided science-based and metabolically-focused oncology nutrition therapy since 2010.