Navigating Nutrition: Your Guide to Eating Well During Cancer Treatment
When faced with a cancer diagnosis, the journey ahead can be challenging, and maintaining a healthy diet often takes a back seat. However, what you eat during this time can play a significant role in managing treatment side effects, preventing weight loss, and supporting your overall well-being. In this article/post, we’ll explore the vital aspects of nutrition throughout your cancer treatment, providing you with valuable insights and practical tips to help you make informed choices on the path to recovery.
The Importance of Good Nutrition During Cancer Treatment
Good nutrition during cancer treatment serves multiple purposes, such as reducing the risk of infection, preventing weight loss, alleviating treatment side effects, promoting a quicker recovery, and enhancing your overall well-being.
In general, a healthy diet should contain:
- Proteins: Incorporate protein-rich foods, such as eggs, legumes, lean meat, and nuts into your diet. A protein-rich diet is often recommended for cancer patients.
- Fats: Choose healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can be found in foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seafood.
- Carbohydrates: Source your carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain bread.
- Vitamins and Minerals : A balanced diet usually provides the vitamins and minerals you need. However, if cancer treatments make it challenging to eat a variety of foods, talk to your healthcare provider about potential supplements.
- Antioxidants : Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which can promote your health.
- Hydration: Stay adequately hydrated with water, as it’s essential to your overall well-being. Note that during cancer treatment, it’s advisable to limit alcohol consumption, as it can interfere with your medications.
Remember that the path to better nutrition during cancer treatment is unique for every patient. Individual dietary needs will vary, so be open to exploring what works best for you.
Managing Side Effects
Cancer treatments often come with a range of side effects that can pose challenges to maintaining a healthy diet. These side effects can vary depending on the specific treatment you receive, making it important to adapt your approach to nutrition accordingly. Take surgery, for example, which is a common cancer treatment. Following surgery, your body requires additional nutrients to support recovery and bolster your immune system. Additionally, various treatments may lead to a set of shared side effects, including:
- Loss or Change of Taste: You might find that your sense of taste has shifted. In this case, consider avoiding red meat, using plastic utensils instead of metal ones, and enhancing flavours with a variety of spices.
- Loss of Smell : With a decreased sense of smell, it’s essential to focus on other aspects of food, such as texture and appearance, to make your meals more appealing.
- Loss of Appetite: When your appetite declines, concentrate on consuming high-protein, high-calorie foods. You can replace regular meals with nutritious milkshakes, eat your most substantial meal when you feel your best during the day, and try light exercises to stimulate your appetite.
- Dry Mouth: To ease dry mouth, choose soft, moist foods and drink plenty of water.
- Nausea and Vomiting: When dealing with nausea and vomiting, opt for smaller portions of soft, easy-to-digest meals. Consider replacing meals with nourishing soups or shakes, and eat foods that are at room temperature.
- Constipation and Diarrhoea: Managing bowel irregularities may require alterations to your diet. Consult with your healthcare team to find suitable dietary solutions.
- Inability to Absorb Nutrients : This can be a challenge. Focus on eating high-protein, high-calorie soft foods, and consider meal replacements like milkshakes if necessary.
- Physical Inability to Eat: Physical limitations might require you to consume smaller meals more frequently.
Finally, it’s crucial to prioritise food safety during your cancer treatment. Your immune system is weakened during this time, making you more susceptible to infections.
Follow these guidelines to keep your food safe:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables meticulously.
- Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw and cooked foods separate.
- Avoid foods that are typically consumed raw.
- Store foods appropriately in the fridge or freezer.
- Defrost meals in the refrigerator or microwave, and ensure they are thoroughly heated before consumption.
By focusing on your nutrition during cancer treatment and working closely with your healthcare team, you can improve your overall well-being and help your body navigate this challenging journey with resilience.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Benefits of Good Nutrition During Cancer Treatment. Accessed 05-07-23 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/coping/nutrition/benefits.html
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Eating Well During Treatment. Accessed 05-07-23 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/coping/nutrition/once-treatment-starts.html
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Food Safety During Cancer Treatment. Accessed 05-07-23 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/coping/nutrition/weak-immune-system.html
City of Hope. (n.d.). Nutrition for cancer patients: How to fuel your body for the fight. Accessed 05-07-23 https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/02/nutrition-for-cancer-patients
National Cancer Institute. (2022, December 9). Nutrition in Cancer Care. Accessed 04-07-23 https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-pdq#:~:text=Eat%20foods%20that%20are%20high,desserts%2C%20and%20fried%20foods)