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Healthy eating – your questions answered

What is healthy eating?
Healthy eating is a way of eating to provide all the substances, called nutrients, needed for good physical condition.  This will also help you to stay a healthy weight. 

What are these nutrients, why are they needed and where can they be found in my food?
Carbohydrates are needed for energy, and to provide fibre to keep the gut healthy.  Carbohydrates have two sources. There are the starchy carbohydrates that are found in bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals.  And there are the refined carbohydrates or sugars which are found in sweets, drinks, jams, marmalades and fruit juices.  It is important to have enough starchy carbohydrates each day and to have moderate amounts of refined carbohydrates.

Proteins are needed to make new cells and repair damaged ones.  The treatment you receive will damage some cells so it is important that you have foods containing protein every day.  Proteins are found in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk and pulses (beans and lentils, etc).

Fat is the energy store in the body.  Fat acts as an insulator and protects the vital organs.  You need to maintain some fat stores to remain as strong as possible.  Fats are found in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, biscuits, chocolate and cakes, as well as the spreads put on bread and the oils and hard fats used for frying or baking.

Vitamins and minerals are very important for promoting health and preventing diseases.  They are found in a wide variety of foods.  They control many chemical processes in the body.  Some examples of vitamins and minerals are vitamin C which is found in fruit and vegetables, and calcium which can be found in milk and other dairy products. 

What food do I need for a healthy diet?
Look at the eatwell plate on page 3 to see how much of your food should come from each food group.  This is everything you eat during the day, including snacks.  You don’t need to get the balance right at every meal.  But try to get it right over time such as a whole day or week.

So try to eat:

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables 
  • Plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods – choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can 
  • Some milk and dairy foods
  • Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein 
  • Just a small amount of foods and drinks high in fat or sugar

What is a portion?
A portion is a slice of bread, one medium potato, two slices of meat, a fillet of fish, one egg, a square of cheese, a piece of fresh fruit and so on.

If you eat everything in moderate amounts and keep a balance in your diet you will remain well nourished. 

Should I take more vitamins and minerals when I’m unwell?
There is no reason to take extra vitamins and minerals if you are eating a healthy diet as explained here.  However if you are a smoker you will need more vitamin C such as an extra piece of fruit each day.  

There is no evidence that taking more vitamins or minerals will be of any value to you and in certain cases vitamins can be harmful.  However, there is no harm in taking one multivitamin tablet each day if you wish.  Buy vitamins from a pharmacy to make sure they are of good quality. 

How much alcohol can I drink?
You may be advised to stop drinking alcohol whilst you are having treatment.  Ask your doctor, nurse or radiographer about this.  In any case you should not exceed a safe alcohol intake which is 3 - 4 units per day for men and 2 - 3 units per day for women.  You should spread your alcohol intake out over the week and include at least 2 alcohol free days a week. 

One unit is either ½ pint of beer or lager, a 125mls glass of wine or a single pub measure of 25mls of spirits (gin, whisky, vodka or rum).

What if I don’t feel well enough to cook?
If you are unable to cook ask other people to do the cooking for you, cook extra food when you feel able to do so and freeze it to eat later or buy ready prepared foods.  For example, instant mashed potato, tinned and frozen vegetables, tinned meats such as stewing steak and corned beef, tinned milk puddings, boil in the bag dishes, microwave meals and even take always can be useful (also, see store cupboard ideas below). 

Make sure you still eat the foods in the advised amounts. 

You may be able to get Meals on Wheels if you or your carer are unable to cook.  Your Social Services department can give you more information about this. 

Store cupboard ideas
It is handy to have a store of basic foods in your cupboards in case it is difficult to get to the shops.  Examples of suitable foods are:

  • Tinned meat e.g. cooked ham, corned beef, minced beef
  • Tinned macaroni cheese
  • Tinned spaghetti
  • Tinned tuna, salmon, pilchards or sardines
  • Boxes of cereals e.g. Weetabix, Ready Brek
  • UHT fruit juice
  • Jam, honey or marmalade
  • Tinned rice pudding or custard
  • Packet mousses, blancmanges or jelly
  • Tinned cream or evaporated milk
  • Packet instant potato
  • Powdered milk drinks – Horlicks, Ovaltine, drinking chocolate, Bournvita
  • Carton UHT full cream milk

What about complementary and alternative diets?
A complementary diet refers to any unusual change to a normal diet which claims to benefit people with cancer.  An alternative diet refers to any change to a normal diet which claims to treat or even cure cancer.  There isn’t any scientific evidence to prove that these claims are true.  If you are interested in these regimes, please ask to see the dietitian who can offer support and advice.

Is there any other information available?
Yes.  If you experience taste changes, constipation, or diarrhoea without losing weight, your nurse or radiographer can give advice on help with eating to provide the correct nutrients for health.  If you lose weight or have more specific nutritional problems, please ask to see the dietitian who will give you advice tailored to your needs.

Further information
If you would like further information please contact the dietitians on: 
Phone:    029 2061 5888 ext 2214