News from Illinois CancerCare

Tips and Tricks for Healthy Holiday Eating

When the holiday decorations begin to appear, some of our good health habits seem to disappear. Whether you’re tempted to over-indulge or you don’t have much of an appetite, it’s important for cancer patients to maintain good nutrition habits throughout the season. We’ll take a quick look at overall dietary needs, as well as share some ideas for festive and healthy party foods.

Power Eating

In addition to remaining well-hydrated, the nutrients listed below are critical to your recovery. Even if you’re not hungry, do your best to eat small portions every few hours to maintain your energy and promote healing.

  • Protein: Cancer patients need more protein than normal to help repair and heal body tissues, as well as to keep your immune system strong. When your body lacks adequate protein, it can break down muscle in search of fuel. A few good options include lean red meat, poultry, full-fat dairy, soy products and dried beans. Keeping a few hard-boiled eggs or a yogurt in the refrigerator can be a handy grab-and-go snack.
  • Fats: Although trans fats or saturated fats should be avoided or consumed in moderation, some fats are a beneficial energy source. Whenever possible, choose monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and limit processed sweets and treats. Salmon and nuts are an excellent choice to provide both the fatty acids and protein your body craves.
  • Carbohydrates: When trying to lose weight, carbs are often thought to be the enemy. However, as you’re trying to maintain your energy level and support your recovery, carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet. Instead of eating potato chips or white bread for your carbohydrate needs, choose whole grains, vegetables and fruits. These natural foods also deliver fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that your body needs to help fight.

Party Time!

Every get-together needs some tasty side dishes—and we won’t let cancer get in the way. We’ve rounded up several great ideas from that are fun for the holidays, but can be enjoyed year-round.

Cauliflower Sauté
Tender cauliflower tossed in a sweet and savory sauce. This Chinese recipe has been modified for the average American kitchen.

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

Sweet, tasty and full of vitamin A, this side dish will be gobbled up in a flash. Get the recipe here.

Tuscan White Bean Salad on Crostini 
This appetizer/salad will have people saying, “You’re so fancy!” Find out how to make this easy (but impressive) dish here.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Fritters with Field Greens
Impress your friends with this savory and nutrient-rich vegetarian dish. Since you’re already in the kitchen, go ahead and make a double batch.

Before You Go

As you get ready to head to a neighborhood potluck, cocktail party or office celebration, take a few moments to consider the following.

  • Avoid or Limit Alcohol Intake: Alcohol has limited nutritional benefit and is dehydrating. Consider making a fun drink option without alcohol like 100% fruit juice (such as cranberry or pomegranate) mixed with sparkling water. If you still choose to consume alcohol, consider limiting to one serving and drinking plenty of water.
  • Eat a Light Snack: Don’t go to a gathering when you’re famished. Stay fueled to avoid the temptation to graze and nibble on low-value foods. Also, there’s a chance that food won’t be served immediately upon your arrival and you don’t want to get lightheaded  or nauseous waiting to eat.
  • Have a Backup Plan: Stick a protein bar or other healthy food in your pocket or bag in case you’re unable to eat any of the food that’s served. Or consider putting a snack in a cooler that you can keep in your car or at the coat check area—a pouch of tuna, some whole grain crackers and bottled water would work nicely.
  • Don’t Deprive Yourself: It’s the holidays and you deserve to enjoy some of your favorite treats that only come around once a year. As long as the majority of your choices are healthy, it’s okay to indulge in a few special goodies.

Have nutrition questions? Meet with our Registered Dietitian to find out how you can get the proper nutrition to help you maintain energy and strength during treatments and manage nutrition-related side effects. For more information, call our Dietitian, Grace, at 309-243-3464. Happy holidays from all of us at Illinois CancerCare!