Foods to Fight Lung Cancer

A healthy diet can't cure or treat lung cancer, but it may lower your risk of developing the disease and help manage your symptoms once you have it. Eating well can also improve the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments and guard against side effects, such as undesirable weight loss. Your dietary needs will probably change over time, according to the American Lung Association, so discuss your eating habits and related concerns with your doctor.

Red bell peppers for sale at a market. (Image: Sam Camp/iStock/Getty Images)

Colorful Fruits and Veggies

Antioxidants support your body's ability to fight and heal from disease. Low concentrations of certain antioxidants, including vitamins A and C, have been linked with an increased risk for lung cancer, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. When you have lung cancer, eating antioxidant-rich foods could help reduce symptoms. While most fruits and vegetables provide some amount of antioxidants, colorful varieties, such as tomatoes, berries, winter squash and bell peppers, are particularly rich. Fruits and vegetables also provide healthier sources of carbohydrates -- your body's main energy source -- than refined foods, such as candy and pastries.

Hearty Whole Grains

Whole grains provide carbohydrates and more nutrients, including antioxidants, than refined grains. In a study published in "Circulation" in 2008, the eating habits and instances of cancer, heart disease and death were analyzed in over 72,000 women for 18 years. Researchers found a strong link between a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and mortality. A typical Western diet, rich in refined grains and unhealthy fats, was linked with heightened risks. Eating more foods rich in B vitamins and iron, such as whole grains, and avoiding refined foods, such as white bread, may also reduce lung cancer symptoms. Replace white and wheat breads with 100 percent whole-grain equivalents, and choose brown rice over instant or white. When purchasing bread, cereals and pasta, make sure whole grains, such as whole wheat, quinoa or oats, are listed as main ingredients.

Nutritious Protein Sources

Eating enough protein makes some cancer treatments more effective. The UMMC recommends eating quality protein sources, such as organic eggs, meat, dairy products and vegetable protein shakes, as part of an eating plan aimed at increasing muscle mass in order to prevent wasting, which can result from lung cancer treatment. Limit protein sources high in saturated fat, such as fatty steaks and fried chicken, which can increase inflammation -- choosing lean red meats, skinless poultry and fish instead. The omega-3 fats in oily fish, such as salmon, lower inflammation. Other nutritious protein sources include yogurt, beans and lentils.

Plant-Derived Fats

Nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils provide valuable amounts of essential nutrients, including healthy fats. They also provide nutritious, calorie-dense options if your appetite is diminished, which commonly affects people with lung cancer tumors, reports the National Cancer Institute. Top sandwiches and crackers with avocado slices or nut butter for added nutrients and calories, and saute vegetables in olive oil. Avoid cooking oils at high temperatures, however, which can create carcinogens. Avocados are rich sources of fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants, including glutathione and vitamins C and E.

Low-Fiber, Bland Foods as Needed

The American Lung Association recommends bland foods as useful ways to meet your energy needs when eating enough is difficult. If you're experiencing nausea, abdominal pain or diarrhea, fiber-rich foods can make your symptoms worse. To minimize diarrhea, replace fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, beans, lentils and raspberries, with lower-fiber alternatives, such as white bread, saltines and pudding. Other mild-tasting, easily digestible foods include soup broth, plain scrambled eggs and cooked or canned fruits without the peel -- such as applesauce.

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