Cancer can affect every part of your health, including how much you eat and what you want to eat. In this blog, we will review why your diet is so important during cancer treatment and tips on foods to add and avoid.
What Effect Does Cancer Treatment Have on Your Diet?
Chemotherapy and some types of radiation therapy can cause several side effects, such as:
- Constipation, which can cause discomfort and further reduce your desire to eat
- Diarrhea, which can drain your body of nutrients
- Fatigue, which means you’re less active, so you burn fewer calories and don’t feel as hungry throughout the day
- Loss of taste, which can make food unappealing
- Nausea and vomiting, which might reduce your appetite and cause weight loss
- Some cancer treatments include the use of steroids which can increase your appetite and blood sugar levels, making it possible to gain weight due to the medications and a more inactive lifestyle
- Those with pancreatic cancer often have difficulty maintaining their weight, because the pancreas isn’t able to function properly, so food may not be digested normally, leading to significant weight loss
Why is What You Eat Important During Cancer Treatment?
Since cancer treatment can make you lose or gain weight and change your appetite, it’s important to pay close attention to what you eat. A balanced diet during chemotherapy or radiation therapy can do more than help you keep a healthy weight, it can also:
- Help manage treatment side effects
- Increase energy
- Increase muscle tone
- Preserve immune function
- Reduce inflammation
Foods to Add During Cancer Treatment
Even if you don’t have cancer, if you have a long-term illness, you should eat foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals. If you can, make these changes to your diet before you start treatment for cancer so that you will be healthier when you start.
Plant-based proteins are some of the best foods to eat while getting chemo or other cancer treatments because they have the most vitamins and minerals. This means eating a lot of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and other legumes. If you do eat meat, choose chicken or fish because they are lean.
Also good for your health are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Avocados, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and walnuts are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation and improve heart health.
Choose carbs like whole wheat, bran, and oats that have been processed as little as possible. There is soluble fiber in these, which helps keep good bacteria in the gut and helps the body make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which help with everything from cell repair to metabolism.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals help the enzymatic processes in our bodies, which are very important for improving immune function and reducing inflammation. If you can, choose foods that have added vitamin D. Some of these foods are:
- Orange juice
- Some cereals
Foods to Avoid During Cancer Treatment
During cancer treatment, pay attention to what you put in your body. Read the labels and make as much of your food as you can on your own. It’s best to stay away from foods that have been heavily processed and refined, and you should also stay away from fried foods with a lot of hydrogenated oils, which can cause increased inflammation. Since people with cancer often have weak immune systems, you might want to avoid foods that could make you sick, such as:
- Lightly cooked or raw fish, such as sushi
- Soft-cooked eggs or foods that contain raw eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise
- Unpasteurized cheeses and dairy products
- Unwashed fruits or vegetables
Can I Take Supplements During Cancer Treatment?
If you’re not eating as much as usual because of treatment or if you’re losing vitamins and nutrients because of side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, you might want to take a multivitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is the most common type of vitamin deficiency. Vitamin D helps keep your immune system strong, makes you feel less tired, and keeps your bones healthy, and if you take steroids, you are more likely to lose bone density. Before you add any vitamins or supplements to your diet, make sure you speak with your oncologist first.
Can My Diet Help my Cancer Treatment Side Effects?
After your treatment starts, making some changes to your diet can help you deal with side effects, which include but are not limited to:
- Loss of appetite – Instead of three big meals, eat small meals or healthy snacks throughout the day
- Constipation – Drink a lot of water, think about taking a fiber supplement, and add more vegetables and beans to your meals
- Diarrhea – Choose foods or drinks with sodium and potassium, like bananas, sports drinks, all-natural fruit juices, or broth
- Loss of taste – It can be hard to figure out what to eat when you can’t taste. Think about trying different spices or marinades on new foods. Strong flavors like lemon or lime juice can also be added
- Nausea – Citrus, ginger, and peppermint oil are all foods that can help with nausea. You can chew on a slice of lemon, drink ginger tea, or eat ginger chews
- Mouth or throat issues – Stick to soft foods if you have sores, pain, or trouble swallowing. Avoid anything rough or scratchy, as well as foods that are too spicy or acidic. Eat your food lukewarm, not hot or cold), and use a straw for soups or drinks
When you have cancer, what you eat is very important. To stay healthy, your body needs enough calories and nutrients, but the disease can make it hard to get what you need, which may be different before, during, and after treatment. And sometimes you won’t even want to eat. You don’t need to change your diet in a big way, and as described in this blog, there are just a few easy ways to make healthy foods as easy and tasty as possible.
Contact us at Clearview Cancer to set up an appointment for an evaluation.