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Food First: A Savor Health Series

Take one step into your local drug store looking for a nutritional supplement and it is easy to get a rush of anxiety.  It’s hard to miss the massive aisle dedicated to vitamin and mineral supplements, and all too commonly, these supplements are relied upon instead of food.  In today’s hectic lifestyle, Americans search voraciously for that one magic pill that promises optimal health and well-being. But are these supplements really as effective as they are touted to be, and more importantly are they safe for cancer patients going through treatment?  

 The supplement industry is a huge conglomerate.  With a massive consumer following and steadfast reliance, they rake in billions each year; in 2014 they brought in $36.7 billion [i]. But how effective are the supplements for our health?  And why is there such confidence in the industry when the FDA, our nation’s protector of public health, doesn’t even regulate what goes into the pills and powders?  

During cancer, the risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies is increased, pressuring patients and caregivers to either use or recommend a supplement as a quick fix [ii-iii]. Supplements are usually large concentrated quantities of one particular vitamin or mineral, and if not cautious, the risk for overdose can be high. Chemotherapy drugs can be affected by such large doses of nutrient, and in some cases negate the cancer fighting effects of the chemotherapy [iv].  

For cancer patients and their caregivers, “food first” is an important and powerful approach.  Healthy foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and fiber which are all essential for the promotion of good health and proper body function. These nutrients are not all present in an isolated supplement pill and work together synergistically in food form in a way that supplements cannot.  

At Savor Health, our credentialed oncology dietitians are uniquely qualified to assist you with navigating the most appropriate foods to best help you in your cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.  Over the next few months, our Food First Series will help you understand the nutritional deficiencies that you may face during cancer and recommend approaches that focus on food as a first approach!  Each month, Food First will highlight a specific nutrient, discuss the consequences of deficiency, and provide you with food options and recipes rich in that particular vitamin or mineral, effectively taking the stress off when entering your drug store, and giving you confidence to take control of some of the decisions you make in your care.


Here is a look ahead, and we invite you to follow along each month:

  • May: Magnesium
  • June: Iron
  • July: Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin
  • August: Vitamin C
  • September: Zinc
  • October: Vitamin A
  • November: The B Vitamins
  • December: Vitamin E

Happy reading and do not forget to check out our Food First Series for May: Magnesium


[ii] Nutrition Business Journal. NBJ’s Supplement Business Report 2015. Penton Media, Inc., 2015.
[ii]Castiglioni, S. and Maier, J. (2011) Magnesium and cancer: a dangerous liaison. Magnes Res. 24(3): pp. S92-100.
[iii] Groopman JE, Itri LM (1999) Chemotherapy-induced anemia in adults: incidence and treatment. J Natl Cancer Inst 91(19):1616–1634
[iv]  D’Andrea, G. M. (2005), Use of Antioxidants During Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy Should Be Avoided. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 55: 319–321. doi:10.3322/canjclin.55.5.319


Rebecca MacLean

Rebecca MacLean is a dietetic intern and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Maine. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys home cooking and spending as much time as possible in the outdoors. She currently resides in New York City.

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