People with Cancer Have Different Diet Needs
People with cancer often need to follow diet tips that are different from what you think of as healthy. For most people, a healthy diet includes:
- Lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals
- Modest amounts of meat and milk products
- Small amounts of fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt
When you have cancer, though, you need to eat to keep up your strength to deal with the side effects of treatment. When you are healthy, eating enough food is often not a problem. But when you are dealing with cancer and treatment, this can be a real challenge.
When you have cancer, you may need extra protein and calories. At times, your diet may need to include extra milk, cheese, and eggs. If you have trouble chewing and swallowing, you may need to add sauces and gravies. Sometimes, you may need to eat low-fiber foods instead of those with high fiber. A dietitian can help you with any diet changes you may need to make.
Side Effects from Cancer Treatment Can Lead to Eating Problems
Cancer treatments are designed to kill cancer cells. But these treatments can also damage healthy cells. Damage to healthy cells can cause side effects that lead to eating problems.
Common eating problems during cancer treatment include
- Appetite loss
- Changes in sense of taste or smell
- Dry mouth
- Lactose intolerance
- Sore mouth
- Sore throat and trouble swallowing
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
Some people have appetite loss or nausea because they are stressed about cancer and treatment. But once people know what to expect, they often feel better.
Ways to Get the Most from Foods and Drinks
During treatment, you may have good days and bad days when it comes to food. Here are some healthy eating tips and ways for cancer patients to manage:
- Eat plenty of protein and calories when you can. This helps you keep up your strength and helps rebuild tissues harmed by cancer treatment.
- Eat when you have the biggest appetite. For many people, this is in the morning. You might want to eat a bigger meal early in the day and drink liquid meal replacements later on.
- It’s okay if you feel like you can’t eat a lot of different foods. Eat the foods that sound good until you are able to eat more, even if it’s the same thing again and again. You might also drink liquid meal replacements for extra nutrition.
- Do not worry if you cannot eat at all some days. Spend this time finding other ways to feel better and start eating when you can. Tell your doctor if you cannot eat for more than 2 days.
- Drink plenty of liquids. It is even more important to get plenty to drink on days when you cannot eat. Drinking a lot helps your body get the liquid it needs. Most adults should drink 8 to 12 cups of liquid a day.
Taking Special Care with Food to Avoid Infections
Some cancer treatments can make you prone to infections. When this happens, you need to take special care in the way you handle and prepare food for cancer patients. Be careful to:
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Put leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you have finished eating.
- Scrub all raw fruits and vegetables with a brush and water before you eat them.
- Soak berries and other foods that are not easily scrubbed in water, then rinse.
- Scrub fruits and vegetable those have rough surfaces and peels, such as melons, oranges, and avocados, with a brush and water before you cut or peel them.
- Soak frozen fruits and vegetables in water and rinse if you are not going to cook them (for a smoothie, for instance). If cooking, you do not need to wash frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Wash your hands, knives, and counter tops before and after you prepare food. This step is most important when preparing raw meat, chicken, and fish.
- Wash your hands each time you touch raw meat, chicken, or fish.
- Use one cutting board for meat and another one for fruits and vegetables.
- Meat, chicken, and fish in the refrigerator or defrost them in the microwave. Cook meat, chicken, and eggs thoroughly. Eggs should be hard, not runny. Meats should not have any pink inside. To be sure meat, chicken, and fish is safe, and cook to the safe temperature
- Make sure your juices and milk products are pasteurized.
- Eat nuts that are shelled and roasted.
- Eat raw fish or shellfish, such as sushi
- Eat raw nuts.
- Use foods, condiments, or drinks that are past their freshness date.
- Buy foods from bulk bins.
- Eat foods that show signs of mold, including moldy cheeses such as bleu cheese and Roquefort
- Eat any perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
- Eat leftovers that have been in the refrigerator longer than 3 days.
- Leave meat, chicken, or fish sitting out to thaw.