Your diet is an important part of your treatment for cancer. Eating the right kinds of foods before and taking the right kinds of nutritional supplements can help you feel better and stay stronger. Recommendations about food and eating for cancer patients can be very different from the usual suggestions for healthful eating. This can be confusing for many patients because these new suggestions may seem to be the opposite of what they’ve always heard.
Nutrition recommendations usually stress eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals; including a moderate amount of meat and dairy products; and cutting back on fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt. Nutrition recommendations for cancer patients may focus on helping you eat more higher calorie foods that emphasize protein. Recommendations might include eating or drinking more milk, cream, cheese, and cooked eggs.
Other suggestions might include increasing your use of sauces and gravies, or changing your cooking methods to include more butter, margarine, or oil. Sometimes, nutrition recommendations for cancer patients suggest that you eat less of certain high-fiber foods because these foods can aggravate problems such as diarrhea or a sore mouth. Nutrition recommendations for cancer patients are different because they are designed to help build up your strength and help you withstand the effects of your cancer and its treatment.
When you are healthy, eating enough food to get the nutrients you need is usually not a problem. During cancer treatment, however, this can become a challenge, especially if you have side effects or simply don’t feel well. The following charts show ways to increase your calorie and protein intake.
Remember, there aren’t any hard and fast nutrition rules during cancer treatment. Some patients may continue to enjoy eating and have a normal appetite throughout 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. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- When you can eat, try to eat meals and snacks with sufficient protein and calories; they will help you keep up your strength, prevent body tissues from breaking down, and rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm.
- Many people find their appetite is better in the morning. Take advantage of this and eat more then. Consider having your main meal of the day early, and have liquid meal replacements later on if you don’t feel so interested in eating.
- If you don’t feel well and can eat only one or two things, stick with them until you are able to eat other foods. Try a liquid meal replacement for extra calories and protein.
- On those days when you can’t eat at all, don’t worry about it. Do what you can to make yourself feel better. Come back to eating as soon as you can, and let your doctor know if this problem doesn’t get better within a couple of days.
- Try to drink plenty of fluids, especially on those days when you don’t feel like eating. Water is essential to your body’s proper functioning, so getting enough fluids will ensure that your body has the water it needs. For most adults, 6-8 cups of fluid a day are a good target. Try carrying a water bottle with you during the day. That may help you get into the habit of drinking plenty of fluids.