When you are faced with a cancer diagnosis, nutrition can be one of the most important parts of your journey. Eating a well-balanced diet before, during and after treatment will help you feel better, maintain your strength and speed your recovery. Use these tips given by registered dieticians during treatment to keep you on the most successful track to survivorship.
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Doing this will ensure your body is getting enough calories, protein and nutrients to tolerate treatment. Five to six smaller meals per day, about every three hours, may also help to reduce treatment-related side effects such as nausea.
- Choose protein-rich foods. Protein helps your body repair cells and tissue and also helps your immune system recover from illness. Include a source of lean protein at all meals and snacks.
- Include whole grain foods. Whole grain foods provide a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, which help keep your energy levels up. These may include oatmeal, whole wheat breads, brown rice or whole grain pastas.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables offer your body antioxidants, which help fight against cancer. Aim to eat a minimum of five servings of whole fruits and vegetables daily. Keep in mind that fruits and veggies should to be cooked if you are undergoing treatment and have a weakened immune system.
- Choose sources of healthy fat. Avoid fried, greasy and fatty foods and choose baked, broiled or grilled foods instead. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Limit sweets and added sugar. Foods high in added sugars provide little nutritional benefit and often take the place of other foods that are better for you.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluids during cancer treatment is important for preventing dehydration. Aim to drink 64 ounces of fluid daily and avoid drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages, as too much caffeine can lead to dehydration.
- Use good mouth care. Chemotherapy and radiation to areas near the head or chest can irritate the lining of the mouth, throat and esophagus. This irritation can make eating and swallowing difficult. Good mouth care is very important if you have mouth soreness. Remember to brush your teeth with gentle toothpaste after eating and floss daily.
- Practice good food safety. Wash your hands often while preparing food and use different knives and cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables. Be sure to cook all foods to their proper temperature and refrigerate leftovers right away.
- Talk to your healthcare team before taking any vitamins or supplements. Some medications and cancer treatments may interact with certain vitamins or supplements. Always choose food first as the main source for nutrients.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol may contribute to dehydration, can lower the abilities of your immune system, and provides no beneficial nutrients.
Most importantly, know that your cancer journey is unique to you and your treatment. You may experience side effects that affect your ability to follow these suggestions. If you are struggling with any side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting or any other nutrition concerns, talk to your doctor.
To learn more about nutrition during and after cancer, visit Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute, the global cancer institute of HCA.