When you are battling cancer, maintaining proper nutrition is vitally important. A healthy diet will help keep your body strong enough to fight the disease. Unfortunately, the disease, as well as the chemotherapy often used to fight it, can affect a person's appetite or even ability to eat or absorb the necessary nutrients. A registered nutritionist with experience in working with cancer patients is an important part of your treatment team. The following discussion will help you understand the importance as well as the challenges of eating well during your treatment.
Eating Well During Chemotherapy
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for maintaining optimal health and weight. When your body is fighting cancer, it needs the nutrients found in a healthy diet to maintain the strength and energy to keep fighting the disease. A healthy diet should contain all the necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and fats your body needs to function optimally at this critical time. However, the catch-22 is that the chemo medications meant to destroy the cancer often cause nausea and loss of appetite. These medications can also alter the taste and smell of many foods, which further decreases the desire to eat. In addition, when the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, or pancreas are affected by cancer or its treatment, the body doesn't receive the necessary nutrients and malnutrition can occur. Malnutrition leaves the body weak and unable to fight cancer or other opportunistic infections and treatment may have to be discontinued.
Chemotherapy can also cause side-effects that interfere with getting proper nutrition. These side-effects include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, sores in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and feeling full after eating only a small amount.
Meeting Nutritional Needs
In addition to helping you fight your cancer, a healthy diet can help the medications work better. A well-nourished body may even be able to take higher doses of chemotherapy drugs. Here are some tips to help you get adequate nutritional support for your fight:
- Eat five or six smaller meals each day rather than three larger ones.
- Eat more plant-based proteins, such as beans and peas, and cut back on red meat.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, berries, and dark green or yellow vegetables.
- Try new foods or foods that you usually don't like. Cancer medications can alter your taste preferences.
- Limit pickled or salt-cured foods.
Work with a Registered Dietitian
It's important to work closely with a cancer nutrition specialist or dietitian. They will guide you in choosing proper foods for your specific needs. A dietitian will answer your questions, calm your fears, suggest beneficial foods, and offer advice for reducing treatment side-effects. Your nutrition specialist is a vital member of your healthcare team, who will monitor your nutritional health and make changes that will help you derive the best outcome from the difficult road ahead.
For more information, reach out to a cancer nutrition specialist in your area.