One of the common side effects of cancer treatment is a change in your eating habits and nutritional needs. Although it is important for people with cancer to maintain a healthy body weight and eat nutritious foods, the side effects of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy may cause nausea, mouth sores, and taste changes. These issues can compromise your normal appetite and diet, however, nutritional experts offer suggestions that can greatly help.
General Nutrition Recommendations
- Try to maintain a healthy weight, which for many patients means avoiding weight loss by getting enough calories on a daily basis. For overweight people with cancer, weight loss should be moderate, with a recommendation of just one pound per week.
- Get essential nutrients the body needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients such as carotenoids, and adequate water.
If you need help devising a diet, ask your healthcare team for a referral – your local hospital may have an outpatient nutrition program. Before you take any supplements, it is very important to consult with your physician. High doses of specific nutrient supplements can be harmful and may interfere with therapeutic treatments. In some cases, your physician may recommend:
- Dietary supplements including multivitamins and calcium
- Liquid meal replacements and nutrient-dense beverages and snacks
Nutrition Tips for Easing Side Effects
Hydration: Dehydration can worsen chemotherapy side effects such as nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. If water tastes unpleasant, you can obtain necessary hydration in soup, tea, or sports drinks. Try making your own flavored drinks by adding a slice or two of fresh fruit to filtered water. It is a good idea to avoid carbonated/caffeinated beverages because they can aggravate gassiness, bloating, and heartburn.
Raw Vegetables/Fiber: Raw vegetables with too much fiber can be difficult to digest and will be irritating if you have mouth sores. You don’t have to avoid these healthy foods. Use a blender to liquefy vegetables and make delicious soups or smoothies, which will go down easier.
Dairy: Some chemotherapy and radiation treatments can temporarily make you lactose intolerant. Watch for signs of intolerance which include bloating, gassiness, cramping, or diarrhea. Either limit your dairy intake or try non-dairy products such as almond milk, coconut milk, yogurts, and cheese.
Fruits: While it is healthy to eat adequate daily servings of fruit, be aware that eating too much high-fructose fruit can cause digestive issues. You don’t need to avoid them, but limit your intake of melons, papaya, mango, apples, and pears. Incorporate berries, peaches, plums, ripe bananas, and citrus fruits into your diet, all of which contain lower fructose.
Fried and Fatty Foods: While you might be tempted to indulge in fried chicken or a cheeseburger for the taste or calories, fried and fatty foods cause bloating or nausea. If you need to boost your caloric intake, eat small but frequent meals that include a lot of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Nausea: Ginger has long been associated with easing nausea. Ask your doctor about taking a 200 mg supplement three times a day, or simply add ⅛ tsp of fresh grated ginger to hot tea. To further alleviate nausea, eat several small meals throughout the day instead of large amounts of food at one time.
Metallic taste in mouth: Mints, gum, or fresh citrus fruits can help reduce this potential side effect of chemotherapy. Brushing your teeth before eating, using plastic utensils, and cooking in glassware can also help.
What are your recommendations for foods during chemo? Tell us in the comments below.