Good nutrition is very important for everyone but it is vital for patients undergoing treatment for cancer. People who eat well are better able to cope with the side effects of treatment. Good nutrition helps you keep up your strength, prevent body tissue from breaking down, rebuild tissues damaged by treatments, and maintain defenses against infection.
Nutrition recommendations are different for cancer patients. Normally, a healthy diet consists of the four basic food groups- fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, dairy products, and moderate amounts of meat or other protein sources. As part of a healthy diet, people are instructed to cut back on fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt.
Recommendations for cancer patients focus on building up your strength, preventing weight loss and getting enough protein that your body needs to help you withstand the effects of the cancer and your treatments. Certain foods may be restricted at certain times because of side effects during treatment.
Most patients have few if any eating related side effects. When they do, it is usually mild, may last a few days, and then go away until the next treatment. They may modify their diets to exclude foods that create more problems for them during treatment. The oncology nurses will provide information for you as you go through treatment that applies to your situation.
Here are some suggestions to keep up your nutrition and prevent weight loss:
- Plan ahead. Keep foods handy that need little if any preparations but are high in protein and calories. (Examples: peanut butter, tuna fish, puddings, ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, eggs, whole milk, instant breakfast drinks, milkshakes, nutritional supplements (Ensure, Boost) cereal- cold or hot, potatoes, cream soups, etc.)
- Do some cooking in advance and freeze meal size portions.
- Allow your family and friends to help with shopping and cooking.
- Take the medications as prescribed by your physician or nurse practitioner/physician assistant to prevent or modify side effects of treatment.
- You may take a multi-vitamin daily (unless prohibited by the type of treatment you are taking) to insure the proper amounts of vitamins in your diet for your body's needs. Ask your oncologist if this is appropriate for you.
- Eat lightly 1 – 2 hours before and after your treatments. Avoid spicy foods.
- Be sure to prevent or treat constipation or diarrhea - either will decrease your appetite.
- Eat your meals in a stress free, smoke free, clean environment.
- If portions seem too large, try eating smaller portions more frequently (every 2 hours while awake).
- Drink at least 8 to 10 eight oz. glasses of fluid daily to prevent dehydration.
American Cancer Society
- American Cancer Society, Nutrition for Cancer Patients
- American Cancer Society Dietitian On-Call - 1.888.227.6333
National Cancer Institute