People living with cancer may have different nutrition goals and challenges, depending on their:
- Type of disease or treatment
- Stage of disease or treatment
- Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or depression
Your disease and treatment may increase your body's need for calories and protein. For instance, chemotherapy, other drug therapies and radiation therapy all create a need for more calories and protein each day. Eating enough can be a challenge during and after treatment and can affect:
- Appetite, taste and smell
- Chewing or swallowing
- The ability to absorb nutrients from food
You can often manage side effects with drugs or other therapies so you can get the protein-rich nutrition you need to:
- Tolerate and recover from treatment
- Promote healing, including growth of new blood cells
- Fight infection
- Prevent weight loss
- Provide energy and prevent muscle loss
- Maintain general health
Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables, Too
Aim for 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. One serving is half a cup for most fruits and veggies and one cup for leafy greens, melons and berries.
Include one or more servings of cruciferous vegetables in your diet almost every day. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, watercress and radishes. One serving is half a cup for most vegetables and one cup for leafy greens such as kale.
In some cases, your doctor may advise you to eat only cooked fruits and vegetables for a time. This is called a neutropenic diet.
Drink Enough Water
Drinking enough water during cancer treatment is especially important because:
- Certain cancer therapies, including chemotherapy, some drug therapies and radiation therapy can all cause dehydration
- Some treatment side effects, such as diarrhea or vomiting, can also contribute to dehydration
- Liquids can help relieve fatigue or constipation
Intravenous (IV) fluids are given during treatment for some chemotherapies. If you're taking oral medications, drink plenty of water or other noncaffeinated beverages with your treatment team's guidance. Try to drink water and other approved liquids throughout the day. Sipping even small amounts of water at regular intervals helps if that's all you can manage.
You can, however, drink too much water, therefore ask your doctor about the amount of water you should consume each day. He or she may recommend liquids, such as broths or sports drinks, that can restore your body's balance of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphates and bicarbonate. Limit caffeinated drinks and alcohol that deplete electrolytes. If you drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, your doctor may advise you to have a noncaffeinated beverage for every caffeinated beverage or serving of alcohol you drink.
13 Ways to Boost Your Nutrition
Side effects such as loss of appetite, nausea and mouth and throat sores can make you cringe at the thought of eating. But getting enough calories and protein is essential to your recovery and well-being. If eating is difficult for you, try these tips to get the calories and nutrients you need:
- Eat frequent, small meals or snacks, four to six times a day.
- Keep prepared snacks or small meals on hand.
- Drink liquids such as juices, soups or shakes if eating solid food is a problem.
- To add calories, blend cooked foods or soups with high-calorie liquids such as gravy, milk, cream or broth instead of water.
- Sip water and other clear liquids such as broth, ginger ale or lemonade frequently to prevent dehydration.
- Choose soft foods or foods that can be cooked until tender.
- Cut foods into bite-sized pieces or grind or blend them so that less chewing is needed.
- Bring snacks when you're away from home.
- Try new foods and recipes to accommodate changes in taste or smell.
- When possible, take a walk before meals to improve your appetite.
- Eat with friends or family members when possible. When eating alone, listen to the radio or watch TV.
- Accept help with food shopping and meal preparation.
- Look into cooking classes for people with cancer. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chapter in your area may be able to help you find some.
Cancer treatment weakens your immune systems, which puts you at increased risk for food-borne illness. Therefore, it's essential that you handle food properly and safely. Here are some ways you and your family can help keep your food safe:
- Keep your hands, counters, dishes, cutting boards and utensils clean.
- Change sponges and dishtowels often.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Use separate dishes, cutting boards and utensils for preparing raw meat, fish or poultry.
- Thaw frozen items in the microwave or refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure that meat is fully cooked.
- Read the expiration dates on food products and look for signs of food spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free fact sheet, Food and Nutrition Facts.