10 Foods to Buy in Bulk if You Have Kidney Cancerby Jerilyn Covert Health Writer
You might expect a renal cancer diagnosis to come with lots of diet restrictions, since damaged kidneys may allow fluid and waste to accumulate in the body and blood. But that’s not necessarily true. “We try to be liberal, not restrictive,” says Neha Shah, R.D., a clinical nutrition expert for cancer and kidney disease at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, CA. “We want patients to eat.” Proper nutrition can combat side effects of cancer treatment (like fatigue), keep blood pressure and blood sugar in check (vital for healthy kidneys), and maybe even aid treatment. But knowing what to eat can be tough.
How a Nutritionist Can Help
Everyone’s needs are different, and a cancer dietitian can offer specific advice to fit your preferences and lifestyle. You may struggle with reduced appetite, taste changes, bloating, and nausea, says Shah. “Patients start to eat less,” she says, “and that’s when the risk of nutritional deficiencies is high.” Plus, you don't want to restrict nutrients unless you have to. (And the only reason you'd have to is if your lab work reveals a buildup of nutrients like potassium or phosphorous.) The solution? Finding healthy foods that are appetizing for you, and adopting effective strategies for eating them. Read on for some tips, and the 10 foods you may want to stock up on.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet potatoes are rich in carotenoids, a phytonutrient that may help control cell growth and fight cancer. One Japanese study published in the Journal of Epidemiology linked sweet potatoes and other starchy roots with a lower risk of kidney-cancer death. But Cleveland Clinic dietitian Lindsay Malone, R.D., likes them for another reason: Because cancer treatment can leave you feeling tired, the brain may seek out sugary foods for an energy boost, she says. Sweet potatoes can be a healthy way to satisfy those cravings. And by baking instead of frying, you cut down on grease, which can trigger nausea, says Shah.
A vegetable’s hue reveals the nutrients and antioxidants found inside, so eating a colorful array ensures a wide variety of nutrients. “I like to say ‘Every color, every day,’” says Malone. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple—knock off over half that list with a rainbow variety pack of carrots. “You get more nutrients but the same mild flavor,” Malone says. Purple carrots are rich in anthocyanins for vascular and heart health. Orange has alpha- and beta-carotene, which may reduce the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Red has lycopene, the same pigment found in tomatoes that’s linked to a lower risk of certain cancers. And yellow has higher lutein, good for your eyes.
Onions and Garlic
Okay, so they’re not colorful, but white vegetables are nutritious too, says Malone. In fact, scientists at the American Institute for Cancer Research are studying onions and garlic for potential anti-cancer effects. They’ve found that compounds like allicin, which is found in the aromatic veggies, reduce inflammation while flavonoids may help fight cancer cells. Use them liberally as a starter for soup, suggests Malone. In general, following a plant-based diet will provide plenty of cancer-fighting compounds called phytonutrients, which may boost immune function and slow cancer growth. They also reduce cancer-causing inflammation and help repair damaged cells.
Blueberries are among the most antioxidant-rich fruits, largely due to their many flavonoids and polyphenols. In one randomized trial, subjects who added two cups of blueberries to their diets saw significant improvements in heart-health markers like blood pressure and cholesterol after just eight weeks. And because all berries are low in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium, they’re generally recommended for those with impaired kidney function, too, says Natalie McCall, M.D., a nephrologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally anti-inflammatory, says Malone. In fact, studies from the American Association for Cancer Research suggest that a form of omega-3 known as DHA may aid kidney-cancer treatment. The best food source for omega-3s is fish. Go for wild-caught, advises Malone. Wild fish feed on natural algae, which converts to omega-3 fat. Farm-raised fish may feed on a manufactured diet, not ideal for the formation of healthy fats. Eat three or four ounces (about a palm-sized portion) two to three times a week, Malone recommends.
Lean Grass-Fed Meats
Grass-fed options are better than conventionally raised, advises Malone. The animal’s green diet means the meat has more omega-3s, says Malone. Lean meats (poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, too) tend to be good sources of complete protein, meaning they contain all 20-plus types of amino acids needed to build and maintain muscle in the body. That’s especially important for cancer patients, says Shah. “When muscle mass is lost, that can lead to fatigue, deficiencies, reduced strength, even impaired physical function,” she says. Your protein needs may vary, but Shah typically recommends about 1.2 grams per kilo of body weight per day, or 82 grams for a 150-pound person.
Whole grains are high in anti-inflammatory fiber and energy-boosting B vitamins. “Lots of cancer patients will say, ‘I have to cut back on carbs because sugar feeds the cancer,’” says Shah. “But when we cut back too much on carbohydrates, that can lead to weight loss and muscle loss.” Carbohydrate is “protein sparing,” she says. If your diet is lacking in carbs, your body may start to use protein for fuel, breaking down muscle tissue to meet its energy needs. Shah says oatmeal tends to be well tolerated. (Tip: Replace the water with milk for added nutrition.) Other good options: quinoa, whole-grain toast, and rice.
An Annals of Oncology study found that eating cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, leafy greens) at least once a week may reduce kidney cancer risk by 32 percent. In addition to fiber and antioxidants, these vegetables contain high amounts of glucosinolates, which when broken down during digestion help protect against DNA damage and deactivate carcinogens in the body, according to animal and in-vitro studies. However, broccoli does contain potassium and phosphorus, so talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Apples and Nut Butter
This classic comfort snack is delicious and nutritious. Most of the antioxidants in apples are cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Nuts also contain phytonutrients, plus protein and healthy fats. Consider going for chunky. Creamy textures may trigger nausea, Shah says. (If you're limiting potassium, though, go easy on the nut butter.) Also helpful for combating nausea: smaller, more frequent meals (four to six per day). Schedule them instead of waiting to feel hungry, especially because many people with cancer often don't. And don’t force yourself to eat foods you don’t like, says Shah.
All beans are rich in fiber and protein. But black beans are also rich in anthocyanins, the plant pigments that are good for brain and heart health. Rinse canned beans before eating to help reduce salt intake, recommends Dr. McCall. Just be aware that beans can be high in phosphate and potassium, so it's smart to check in with your doctor before digging in.