You Ask and We Answer

Cancer Center Dietitians Answer Your Questions

By Joan Daniels, R.D., and Nancy Burke, R.D.
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Dietitians

Dear Joan and Nancy:

I've heard vitamin D can prevent cancer. But I've also heard that the best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. Won't that increase my risk of skin cancer? I almost never leave the house without sunscreen.
-A.R., Clawson, Mich.

Dear A.R.:

You're doing the right thing: Limiting exposure to the sun is still the best course of action. Some studies have shown that vitamin D may be beneficial in preventing some types of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon cancers. However, there are other ways to increase your vitamin D intake besides sun exposure.

Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are good sources of vitamin D along with milk and fortified cereals. Over-the-counter supplements are another way to increase vitamin D intake. But before you begin taking any supplement-including vitamin D -- it's important to talk with your health-care team to ensure that it is safe for you and will not interfere with any treatments you may be receiving.

Currently, the Food & Drug Administration recommends 400 IU per day of vitamin D for children; 200 IU for those 19 to 50 years old; 400 IU for those 51 to 70 years old; and 600 IU for those 71 and older. Researchers are working to better understand what the best dose of vitamin D is. However, people older than 50, those who get limited sun exposure and people with darker skin may be at more risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Dear Joan and Nancy:

My husband always was a big eater, but now that he's undergoing treatment, he says he feels full after eating just a few bites. I'm worried he's not eating enough, but it makes him uncomfortable when he tries to eat more. Do you have any suggestions?
-E.K., Howell, Mich.

Dear E.K.:

Feeling full after eating a small amount of food is a common frustration for people undergoing cancer treatment. The key is to pack as many calories into those few bites as possible.

Make sure your husband is eating foods that are rich in calories and nutrients. Eliminate fillers, like lettuce and broth. Also limit fluids at mealtime-especially sodas-as they can make you feel full. When you choose drinks, consider nutrient-dense fluids-such as milk, milkshakes or juices-and save them for between mealtimes.

Speaking of mealtimes, consider breaking the breakfast-lunch-dinner habit. Instead, make sure your husband has access to small amounts of food more frequently. Cut sandwiches into smaller pieces and save the leftovers for later. Keep ready-to-eat snack foods like dried fruits, nuts and granola bars on hand. Consider leaving them on the bedside table in case he feels like having a midnight snack.

If these suggestions don't work, consider a high-calorie nutritional supplement. Carnation Instant Breakfast makes a special-order drink that contains 560 calories. You can find it in the Cancer Center Pharmacy.

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2009