This is the first in a three-part Q&A series on nutrition with Kristin Addona, an oncology registered dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
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Question: What is the idea behind a prevention diet in regards to the pancreas? Can you, for example, reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer?
Answer: Although there is no proven way to prevent pancreatic cancer, you can reduce your general risk of cancer by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, and choosing a healthy diet. Studies show that a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. I also recommend that you limit the amount of red and processed meats in your diet.
Q.: If a patient doesn’t have pancreatic cancer yet, why would you be seeing them?
A.: My role at NYP/Columbia is as an outpatient oncology registered dietitian. I see patients who are undergoing treatments for cancer. However, patients see RDs for a wide range of reasons. For example, registered dietitians counsel patients who are seeking to change their diet to help manage their medical conditions, because they want to lose weight, and because they want to improve their diet for disease prevention.
Q.: What is the first thing you say to a new patient when you see them?
A.: I like to understand the reason for their visit and what goals, problems or concerns they may have. This helps me guide the session toward their unique needs.
Q.: What is the most important thing for patients to be aware of in terms of their diet? Why?
A.: It is important for patients to focus on whole foods and limit foods that are processed. When choosing what to eat, try to choose foods that can be placed in a food group. For example, when choosing a snack food, reach for a fruit, vegetable, nuts or yogurt, instead of a bag of chips or pretzels. Also, the fewer ingredients listed on packaged foods, the more natural and whole the product will be. This will ensure that your diet is well balanced, rich in antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
Q.: If there was just one change a person could make, what should that be?
A.: If you are not at a healthy body weight, work towards taking steps to get there. A registered dietitian can work with you to create a sensible plan to help you reach your weight loss goals. If you are already at a healthy body weight, take steps to maintain your weight by doing daily physical activity and eating a healthy well balanced diet.