We are constantly learning more about cancer. There are more and better treatment options available, and there has been a lot of success in increasing survival rates and quality of life. That said, cancer treatment can be really tough. Whether your treatment plan includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or one of the other methods, there are bound to be difficult days. No one will argue that the side effects can be brutal. You need all of the support you can get during this period, and that includes nutritional support.
Making healthy food choices should be an obvious decision. A balance diet, full of healthy, energy-producing nutrients will not only make you feel better, it will also positively affect your recovery. This is not the time to try some new, extreme, fad diet, even if it is being enthusiastically endorsed by your favorite celebrity. Because nutrient needs of cancer patients vary from person to person, your cancer team will be you best source for developing a nutritional plan. You may be surprised how beneficial this can be. Eating well during your cancer treatment may help you…
- Feel better and maintain energy and strength
- Control weight, both weight gain and weight loss
- Better tolerate treatment-related side effects
- Reduce risk of infection
- Speed up rate of recovery
Make Healthy Food Choices
Some basic guidelines include:
- Proteins – during and after cancer treatment, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and fight infection. Recommended sources include fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, nut butters, dried beans, peas, lentils and soy-based foods.
- Fats – play an important role in nutrition and serve as a rich source of energy for the body. Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats more often than saturated fats or trans fats.
- Carbohydrates – are the body’s major source of energy. Be sure to choose whole grains that contain all of the essential and naturally occurring nutrients. Other sources of carbohydrates include potatoes, rice, spaghetti, pasta, cereals, corn, peas, and beans.
- Water – sufficient water and other liquids are important at all time but even more so during cancer treatment. Common side effects are vomiting or diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration without continual replenishment of liquids.
- Vitamins and minerals – the body needs these to function properly and levels can be disrupted by treatment. You will want to discuss adding these to your diet with your healthcare team.
Foods That May Help with Specific Issues
These are not necessarily proven other than anecdotally:
- Carrots are said to be a chemotherapy superfood, due to containing compounds that may counteract a mechanism in the body that can interfere with treatment.
- Rice and bananas may help with chemotherapy-related diarrhea.
- Ginger and lemon drops help with that queasy stomach that so often follows chemotherapy.
- Custard can be a good choice if treatment has left you with mouth sores.
There is no hard and fast list of food recommendations because everyone’s journey through cancer treatment is different. Many will lose their appetite, and the goal will simply be to find something they can eat. Others will develop different reactions at different stages. The overall goal to keep in mind is to maintain as nutritionally balanced a diet as can be tolerated, and make sure to consume plenty of liquids.