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National Nutrition Month Q&A with Registered Dietitian Karen Smith

March 16, 2021

Nutrition is always important, but even more so when your body is fighting an illness. Your body also needs the right nutrients to help with healing. Karen Smith, MS, RD, CSO, manager of dietary services, Texas Oncology, shares guidance for patients and caregivers during National Nutrition Month, observed annually in March.

Tell us about your role at Texas Oncology.

My role supports the work our dietitians do to deliver nutrition care to our patients. Other parts of my role include working to expand nutrition services throughout the state, as well as developing nutrition education and training materials for Texas Oncology’s clinical staff to enhance their understanding of nutrition in cancer care.

Why is nutrition important for patients with cancer?

Cancer and treatment may impact the way a person eats. Many patients go through treatment with relatively minimal impact on their ability to eat. However, there are also patients who face dietary challenges during treatment. These patients benefit from a nutritional care plan based on their symptoms, food intake, personal preferences, and specific needs to best support their treatment. This guidance can improve quality of life, recovery time, and the ability to complete treatment on time and with fewer breaks in treatment.

What are some of the common nutrition challenges cancer patients face?

I think the most common nutrition challenge during and after treatment is sorting through the sheer amount of nutrition information available and the contradictory messages. It can feel overwhelming. This is one of the reasons I value the resources available to our patients and caregivers. The information is straightforward, reliable, and easily accessible.

Some of the physical nutrition challenges that cancer patients face during treatment are lack of appetite, unintended weight loss or weight gain, nausea and vomiting, taste changes, constipation, and diarrhea.

I think the most common nutrition challenge during and after treatment is sorting through the sheer amount of nutrition information available and the contradictory messages. It can feel overwhelming."Karen Smith, MS, RD, CSO

What is the most important message you want to share during National Nutrition Month?

The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month ® is “Personalize Your Plate.” Dietary guidelines recommend eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats. Exploring ways to personalize this advice and express your individual and cultural preferences within the guidelines can be a way to support, celebrate, and honor your own health.

Do you have any tips for caregivers or family members of cancer patients?

My main advice for caregivers and family members is to make sure they are taking care of their own health and nutritional needs and asking for support when they need it. Stay hydrated, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and be kind to yourself so you can best take care of your patient or loved one with cancer.


For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.