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Nutritional Therapy During Cancer Treatment

Maintaining a healthy eating habit is hard under normal circumstances. However, when going through cancer treatment, it can be even more challenging. Nausea, fatigue and other side effects of treatment can make eating a very difficult thing to do. It is important to try to make healthy eating a priority to help maintain your energy during treatment.

Complementary nutritional services are offered to our patients at the Strecker Cancer Center.

Listen in as Kayleigh Ticknor, MS discusses the variety of services that are offered, including individualized patient assessment and the development of a unique patient-specific nutritional plan and education on healthy eating through treatment and beyond.

Nutritional Therapy During Cancer Treatment
Featured Speaker:
Kayleigh Ticknor, MS
Kayleigh Ticknor, MS is the oncology dietitian at the Strecker Cancer Center. Kayleigh is originally from the Mid-Ohio valley. She studied Dietetics at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. and completed her dietetic internship and Master’s degree there. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Learn more about Kayleigh Ticknor, MS

Melanie Cole (Host): When it comes to a diet rich in cancer-fighting foods, most experts agree that it should consist of predominantly plant-based diets such as fruits and vegetables. My guest today, is Kayleigh Ticknor. She’s an Oncology Dietician at the Strecker Cancer Center at Memorial Health System. Welcome to the show, Kayleigh. If somebody is diagnosed with cancer, and they’re thinking about all these treatments that they’re going to have to undergo – chemotherapy, maybe radiation, maybe surgery – what is your first, best bit of information about their nutritional needs during some of this time including – they’re going to be stressed out and depressed, so what is your best advice about foods that they should really try and concentrate on?

Kayleigh Ticknor (Guest): Well, as you know, diet is essential for maintaining health and also helping the person get through treatment as best as possible. Like you said, I do recommend a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables, and also whole grains play an essential role as well. Protein, not to leave that out, is certainly important too. It helps maintain muscle mass, what we also call lean body mass, and it can help build it back up as well. Needs for protein are also increased when patients are going through treatment, so that is essential like I said. There are plant-based forms of protein as well as animal forms of protein too.

Melanie: And do you have some favorites? Should we be skipping red meat? Does phosphorous and things in the red meat contribute to the cancer or even help take away from the treatments? Is there any truth to some of that?

Kayleigh: Well, research does show that we should have a moderate amount of red meat. It doesn’t show it to be beneficial to totally eliminate it, but to keep under about 18 ounces in a week of red meat is what’s recommended. It’s not like the patients truly have to eliminate red meat from their diet, but just having a moderate amount would be beneficial for them.

Melanie: Before we get into some of the services that you offer and individualized patient assessment, some people with cancer – and we’re going to bust up a few myths here today, Kayleigh -- have heard that sugar feeds cancer. When you hear that word sugar – carbohydrates – a carrot is a carbohydrate – what do you tell people about sugar and that question? Does it feed their cancer and again contribute to the way that your body isn’t able to handle that? What do you say about sugars and what type of sugar are we talking about?

Kayleigh: Well, as you know, it is not a myth that sugar feeds out cancer cells, but keep in mind that sugar feeds all the cells in our body. It’s not exclusive to the cancer cells, and if we don’t have enough sugar, our body can take other forms of nutrients in our body and convert them into sugar to use that to feed the cancer cells. I don’t tell them to eliminate sugars from their diets, but of course, foods like fruits and vegetables have naturally-occurring sugars that can be a lot healthier for the patients to have rather than having sugars come from artificial sources or something like soda. If they can concentrate most of their sugars to come from the fruits and dairy products, then that would be great.

Melanie: So the sugars you’d like them to stay away from are the processed sugars, and the white flours, and the breads, and that sort of thing, yes?

Kayleigh: Yes.

Melanie: Okay, so tell us a little bit about what you do as far as individualized patient assessment. How do you take a cancer patient and decide what they should and shouldn’t be eating?

Kayleigh: Well, I usually try to get a good history of what’s going on with them as far as nutrition goes, see how their weight has been – whether it’s stable or whether they’ve had weight loss – those things that can contribute to malnutrition such as weight loss or a decrease in their appetite or the amount that they have been eating. I try to assess for those different things before making suggestions or recommendations to the individual because as you know, everyone is different and everybody will not require the same type of recommendations.

Melanie: So then what goes into a unique patient-specific nutritional plan? Do you write it out – because again, people don’t always know, Kayleigh? You say eat fruits and vegetables, but they’re not always sure what to do with some of the vegetables that we hear are superfoods – kale, and broccoli, and kohlrabi. They don’t always know what to do with these things. Tell us what your plan involves. Do you help them learn to utilize these healthy foods?

Kayleigh: Yeah, I can give suggestions on how to prepare different types of vegetables and ones that might be less common. I can also write down suggestions for them or give them handouts that are appropriate for what they’re going through at the time. I’ve also done nutrition classes in the past and would touch on different subjects like preparing foods or healthy eating for maintaining a healthy weight, things like that.

Melanie: So then they’re going through treatment. Now, treatment can definitely make you tired. What do you tell them about foods to help in their energy and also, please include for us if somebody asks you about foods that might be not good as an adjuvant to whatever type of therapy – if they’re looking at ginseng to help with their energy, but if it’s not going to be good for their chemotherapy or their radiation, do you put all of that together for them too?

Kayleigh: Well, I usually try to tell the patients to check with their doctor about taking any type of herbs or supplements like that. They are not regulated by the FDA, so we don’t truly know what is in them. Those ones that I would like patients to err on the side of caution to taking the herbs and the supplements. Not to say that some of them might be beneficial, but do err on the side of caution as far as taking those.

Carbohydrates are our primary fuel source for our bodies, so it is important to eat carbs in order to maintain energy. Carbohydrates would be anything from fruits – you can also get them from dairy products, from breads and cereals, rice, pasta. A lot of those foods that you might think have a negative connotation, in a healthy diet they do belong, it’s just that we don’t want to overdo it. They do provide our main source of energy, so it is important to not eliminate those foods from our diets, but if you can make sure that you get the whole grain source of those types of foods, then that would even make them healthier for you.

Melanie: What about things like caffeine? Do you steer people clear of that stuff?

Kayleigh: I like to try to encourage more rather than to eliminate foods from peoples’ diets because sometimes when going through treatment, there are only certain things that sound good to a patient. I try not to totally eliminate anything, but I highly encourage for best hydration, water, and beverages that don’t include caffeine or high amounts of sugar. The ones without the sugar and caffeine are going to be better forms of hydration.

Melanie: As a dietician, Kayleigh, again, during treatments – chemotherapy and such – nausea can be prevalent, and they can not feel like eating, and you don’t want them to lose too much weight while they’re going through treatment. What do you tell them about – if they’re feeling very sick and nauseous – about keeping up those energy stores? What kinds of foods can they eat that will settle their stomach?

Kayleigh: Well, some things that could be helpful, first – and this isn’t a food – but to eat several small meals throughout the day. Tolerance, as far as eating goes, would be better a lot of times with patients eating small meals rather than to eat what we might consider a normal-sized meal or a large meal. If they can have several small meals throughout the day, that would be one thing that would be helpful. To eat foods that are drier, like crackers and toast, even to sip on clear liquids frequently, to eat foods that are cool instead of maybe hot ones or spicy foods. They might also want to avoid the foods that are overly sweet or fried or greasy, foods with a strong odor, and also, even sucking on candy or sugar-free mints, those might be some good things to help with nausea.

Melanie: That’s great advice. Wrap it up for us, Kayleigh, with your best advice again about eating during treatment for cancer and even beyond your cancer. If someone is in remission and working on the future, what do you tell them about that healthy nutrition and keeping that good, positive attitude with their food?

Kayleigh: Well, a positive attitude is essential for getting through treatment and having good outcomes. I really think that mental health plays a huge role in how a patient can get through their treatment. The healthier they can eat through treatment, the better. There are three things that I like to try to place emphasis on with my patients, and one is to make sure they have protein each time that they eat. I emphasize fruits and vegetables and good hydration.

Melanie: That’s great advice. Thank you so much, Kayleigh, for being with us, today. You’re listening to Memorial Health Radio with Memorial Health System. For more information on the Strecker Cancer Center, you can go to, that’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much, for listening.