Nutrition is a key part of fighting cancer and tolerating treatment. This can be challenging since treatment often causes the eating challenges in those cancer patients who must be well-nourished. Sierra Nevada Cancer Center has some dos, some don’ts and some nutrient-specific advice to help support patients in their cancer journey.
Dos & Don’ts
Listed below are some general nutrition guidelines for cancer patients. (Not all of these apply to every cancer patient, so be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian for advice specific to you.)
- Before treatment begins, visit your dentist to ensure good oral health. Some patients get sores in their mouths from treatment, which can put a damper on eating.
- Stock up on healthy foods prior to treatment. We recommend making some meals you love, and portioning and freezing them for days when your energy may be low. Also, fill your fridge, freezer and pantry with pre-made foods.
- Don’t be shy about asking friends and family for help shopping and cooking. By creating a schedule, you’ll help ensure you get help throughout treatment, not just at the beginning.
- Take advantage of a strong appetite by eating well in those moments. For many, mornings are best. Typically, smaller, more frequent meals are better tolerated than three big ones.
- Do not eat sugary foods in the morning. The ensuing insulin spike can negatively impact your immune system, and feed unhealthy cells.
- Take extra care in how foods are handled and prepared. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. (More than you think you need to.) Do not leave foods out at room temperature any longer than you have to. Wash everything (counters, knives, hands) after handling raw meat.
- If you have a metallic taste in your mouth from treatment, use plastic utensils. (Or chopsticks, if you dare.)
- Do not eat sushi or other raw fish/shellfish.
- Do not eat at salad bars or buffets. (Too much bacteria and germ potential.)
- Do not eat anything that appears moldy. (Skip moldy cheeses like bleu cheese, too.)
- If you plan to take supplements during treatment, check with your doctor first. Some may negatively impact the effectiveness of your treatment.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink 8-12 glasses of water or clear liquid daily. However, during meals, only take sips. Otherwise, you may feel full from the liquid and not get the nutrition you need.
Mind These Nutrients
For patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and other cancer treatments, getting enough proteins, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins & minerals is key. These nutrients in particular should stay top-of-mind throughout treatment to maintain strength and help your body recover from treatment:
Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of your body. It helps build and maintain muscles, red blood cells, tissues and hormones; maintain your body’s fluid balance; carry medications throughout the body; fight infection and boost your immune system. That’s why the protein requirement is higher for cancer patients.
To calculate the daily requirement of protein for an average adult, take your body weight (in pounds) and divide by two. That number equals the recommended number of grams of protein per day. Again, cancer patients should go above and beyond this protein requirement guideline.
Foods that are high in protein include meat and fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and legumes, peanut and almond butter and tofu.
Believe it or not, fats have a place in good nutrition. Fatty acids are a valuable source of energy, as fats are broken down by your body and stored as energy. They are also used to carry certain vitamins through the bloodstream and insulate tissues.
Be advised that not all fats are created equal. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best kind of fats to incorporate into any diet. These can commonly be found in oils including olive, peanut, safflower and corn. Saturated fats, which typically come from animal sources, can raise your risk of developing heart disease. That’s why experts recommend that no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake comes from saturated fats. Transfats, which are often found in processed foods, should be avoided whenever possible. They can lower good cholesterol and elevate bad cholesterol.
Your body gets a large portion of its energy from carbohydrates. They are also important for healthy organ function. The highest quality carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They also offer the body vitamins, minerals and fiber. Be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian to find out how many carbohydrates you should have in your diet during treatment. It varies by cancer and treatment types.
Vitamins & Minerals
If you’re able to eat a balanced diet throughout treatment, chances are, you don’t need to take dietary supplements. However, if you are experiencing any eating difficulties, ask your doctor which vitamins and minerals are the best to take, and which ones to avoid.
A Wealth Of Information
There are dozens of credible sources that share everything from nutrition advice to recipes for patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. We encourage you to do more research, and have an open dialogue with your doctor.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, contact Sierra Nevada Cancer Center and Dr. Perez. We will help guide you through your treatment and recovery.