What is nutrition during cancer treatment?

Nutrition During Cancer Treatment
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Good nutrition during cancer treatment: Overview

Good nutrition during cancer treatment can help you keep up your strength and energy, prevent weight loss, fight infection, and feel better. But sometimes, eating well during cancer treatment can be a challenge. You may not feel hungry, or food may taste different than it usually does. Some cancer treatments can cause mouth sores, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. All these things can make it hard to eat.

There are many things you can do at home to get the nutrition you need during cancer treatment. If you find that you still need help, talk with your doctor. He or she may advise you to work with a dietitian to help you find ways to get enough nutrition.

What is healthy eating when you have cancer?

Eating well when you have cancer means eating foods that help your body stay strong. Cancer and cancer treatments can make it harder for your body to get what it needs from food. So choose a variety of foods that provide good nutrients, including colorful fruits and vegetables.

How can you get good nutrition during cancer treatment?

  • Include favorite foods in your meals. This may make eating more enjoyable.
  • Include protein foods in your diet every day. Good choices include lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, cooked dry beans, peanut butter, and nuts and seeds. Add powdered milk to other foods (such as pudding or soups) to boost the protein. Protein helps your muscles and immune system stay strong.
  • Practice safe food handling. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or eggs. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you are not sure whether a food is safe, throw it out.
  • If you do not feel very hungry, try to eat smaller amounts of food more often. For example, try having 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Keep a high calorie drink supplement nearby and sip it while watching TV or reading a book.
  • Take a short walk before you eat, if possible. It may make you feel hungrier.
  • If you have trouble keeping your weight up, pick high-calorie foods. Add butter, honey, or brown sugar to foods to make them taste better. Use sauces and gravies. Add oil, butter, or margarine when you cook. Use mayonnaise and sour cream to help make foods taste better and to add calories.
  • If the smell of food makes you feel sick, try eating cold or room-temperature foods. It also may help to have someone else prepare meals so that you do not have to smell the food while it is cooking.
  • If you have trouble eating solid food, try liquid meal supplements, such as Ensure, Boost, or instant breakfast drinks. They will give you both calories and protein. Soups, smoothies, milkshakes, and milk also are good liquid sources of nutrition.
  • Keep snacks around that are easy to prepare and eat, such as soft granola bars, string cheese, frozen grapes, pudding, custard, ice cream, and flavored ice pops.
  • Drink plenty of fluid each day. If you have a hard time drinking enough fluid, try carrying a water bottle with you during the day. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase your fluid intake.
  • Check with your doctor before you take any vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements. Do not take more than 100% of the daily value (DV) for any vitamin or mineral unless your doctor tells you to.

Why can it be hard to eat during cancer treatment?

You may find it hard to eat during treatment for cancer because:

  • You may have problems with side effects from your treatment. It can change how your body handles food. You may have nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores.
  • You may have a dry or sore mouth or trouble swallowing after radiation treatments to your head or neck.
  • Foods may taste different.
  • You may not feel like eating if you are tired, depressed, or anxious.

Some people eat well during most of their cancer treatment. Others may have days when they don't feel like eating at all. Even the thought of food may make them feel sick.

Eating well during cancer treatment

  • Eat food that has protein and extra calories.

    This can help you keep your strength and prevent weight loss. Try a liquid meal replacement such as Ensure or Boost for extra calories and protein. Smoothies or shakes are a good choice too.

  • Try having your main meal of the day early.

    Your appetite may be better early in the day. Or you may find it easier to eat smaller meals more often, instead of three large meals.

  • Ask someone to cook for you.

    You may feel more like eating if you don't cook your own foods.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

    Drink when you don't feel like eating. Carry a water bottle with you during the day.

  • Don't worry too much if you have a day when you can't eat at all.

    Do what you can to make yourself feel better. And start eating as soon as you feel better. Be sure to tell your doctor if you still can't eat after 1 or 2 days.

  • Be prepared to try new ways of eating or new foods.

    Good eating habits for people who have cancer may be different from other healthy eating guidelines. Go to the National Cancer Institute website at www.cancer.gov to find more information about nutrition.

If you have serious problems eating, you may need to get nutrition and fluids another way. This can be done through intravenous (I.V.) fluids or through a feeding tube.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.