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January 2016 Issue

Cancer Survivors Have Poor Diets

Surviving cancer is a major accomplishment, but many cancer survivors miss out on the opportunity to fight preventable health conditions with one of the most powerful weapons: Diet. By eating more nutrient-rich foods, such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and reducing low-nutrient foods, such as sweets, snacks and sugary beverages, cancer survivors can increase their overall health and longevity.

However, a Tufts University study, which compared data from more than 1,500 adult cancer survivors to participants who had no history of cancer, found that cancer survivors’ diets were far from optimal. The study found that cancer survivors had the following dietary characteristics:

Poor adherence to a healthy diet (as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans); they had an overall score of 47.2 out of 100 on a scoring of healthy eating. Their diets were especially poor in green vegetables and whole grains.

  • - Diet quality improved with age; the older the age, the better the diet.

    - Low fiber, vitamins D and E, potassium, and calcium intakes.

    - High intakes of empty calories, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.

    - Lower education levels resulted in significantly lower diet quality.

For the four major cancer types in the U.S. (breast, prostate, lung, and colon/rectal), breast cancer survivors had the best diet quality, while lung cancer survivors had the worst. The study highlights the powerful opportunity that cancer survivors possess to improve their overall health by simply switching to a healthful eating pattern.

—Sharon Palmer, RDN, Editor EN