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Diet and Nutrition

During your cancer treatment, the food pyramid probably won’t be on the top of your mind, but proper nutrition is as important as ever. Your body uses energy to repair tissue and maintain its strength. A healthy diet is an essential building block for allowing your body to repair itself and to resist infection.

You may lose your appetite during treatment, making maintaining good nutrition a challenge. Some treatments can also affect how well you tolerate foods or your body’s absorption of nutrients. Your doctor can prescribe medications to help increase your appetite, decrease nausea, and treat or prevent mouth sores.

Fluids and Hydration

Oral fluids are vital to your body, and this is especially true when you have cancer. The right fluids and the right quantities, along with good nutrition, can go a long way toward supporting your good nutrition in two key ways:

Staying Hydrated

Keeping healthy always depends on keeping a proper fluid balance. Make sure you get the proper amount of liquids your body needs to fight cancer and heal quickly. Talk with your doctor about when – and, in certain cases, when not – to drink water and other fluids.

Nutrition

Certain fluids can be excellent sources of nutrition by providing vitamins, minerals, other nutrients – or simply calories – that your body needs. As an added advantage, you may find nutritional oral fluids to be relatively easy and convenient to prepare and enjoy. Talk with your care team about the exact amount and type of fluids you need every day to maintain good health and to control the impact of cancer on your body. Also, discuss how fluids can help you deal with potential side effects of your cancer  treatment that may affect your nutritional balance. You may wish to discuss the following items with a member of your care team:

  • Healthy oral fluids that you can – and should – drink daily.
  • The importance of limiting your intake of beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and certain soft drinks.
  • The potential role of supplemental drinks in your diet.
  • The value of beverages, such as peppermint tea and flat ginger ale, to prevent or reduce nausea.
  • Which liquids to consume to help overcome constipation, diarrhea, and related disorders.

During treatment, your nutrition needs may be quite different than you are used to and your treatment may require a special diet. Planning what you eat before, during, and after treatment is very important for maintaining strength.

Stimulate Your Appetite

  • Make breakfast or lunch your main meal if you are less hungry at dinnertime than earlier in the day.
  • Eat more frequently, but eat smaller amounts at each meal.
  • Keep snacks close at hand.
  • Try different flavors to keep your interest in eating.
  • Increase the amount of calories in your food by adding olive oil.
  • Talk with your doctor about food supplements that may help you.

Choose Foods That are Easy to Eat

  • Serve foods and liquids warm or at room temperature. Avoid very hot or very cold foods.
  • Avoid greasy, fatty, or fried foods.
  • Avoid strong spices.
  • Limit foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, some sodas, and chocolate.
  • Tailor your diet as needed to special challenges, such as diarrhea or constipation.

Save Time and Energy

  • Let someone else cook when possible.
  • Save cleaning time by using as few dishes, pots, and pans as possible. Also, consider using disposable plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Cook larger batches of food to freeze for future use.
  • Use mixes, frozen or ready-to-eat meals, or take-out foods.

Changes in taste can result from your cancer and different cancer treatments. To find foods that are appealing, try experimenting with different seasonings and flavors. The following are some common taste changes and suggestions to mask or overcome these taste alterations.

  • Too sweet. Try counter-balancing the sweetness with an acid. Fresh lemon or lime work particularly well. Many types of vinegar, including brown rice, red wine, and balsamic vinegar also work.
  • Too salty. The purpose of salt is to enrich the flavor of foods you eat, but too much salt can be overbearing. Try using an acid such as vinegar or a citrus fruit, such as a lemon, to limit this.
  • Too bland. Use sea salt to heighten the flavor of your foods. You may also try using sour, acidic, or bitter ingredients to add value to the palate.
  • Too spicy. Avoid using citrus or salty ingredients in this case. Instead, use oil, and sweeteners to reduce the heat.
  • Too bitter. To deaden the bite give Grade A or B maple syrup a try. Honey, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar may also help in a pinch.
  • Too sour. Choose foods high in protein such as eggs, meats, fish, soy, legumes, milk, dairy and cheese.

You may benefit from nutritional counseling. You can find additional diet and nutrition resources below.