Diet and Nutrition :

People with cancer may find it difficult to keep healthy eating habits. Depressions, anxiety, emotional stress, and chemical changes caused by the cancer can lead to a loss of appetite. Patients experiencing side effects from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may need special nutrition. Cancer patients can prevent weight loss and malnutrition by making an effort to eat the right amount of food rich in calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. Your health care professional should be able to address any questions you have about nutrition and diet. There are many helpful cookbooks written especially for people with cancer and offer recipes high in protein and calories and are available in most bookstores

Benefits of Good Nutrition :

Good nutrition is especially important for people with cancer. That is because the illness itself, as well as its treatments, may affect your appetite. Cancer and cancer treatments may also alter your body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and to use nutrients.

The nutrient needs of a cancer patient vary from person to person. Your doctor, nurses, and dietitians can help you identify your nutrition goals and plan strategies to help you meet them. Eating well while undergoing cancer therapy can help you to:

  • Feel better
  • Keep up your strength and energy
  • Keep up your weight and your body’s store of nutrients
  • Tolerate treatment-related side effects
  • Decrease your risk of infection
  • Heal and recover quickly

Eating well means eating a variety of foods that provide the nutrients you need to maintain your health while fighting cancer. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Nutrients :

Protein: Protein helps to ensure growth, to repair body tissue, and to maintain a healthy immune system. Without enough protein, the body takes longer to recover from illness and lowers resistance to infection. As such, people with cancer often need more protein than usual. Following surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, additional protein is usually needed to heal tissues and to help prevent infection. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods.

Carbohydrates and fats: Carbohydrates and fats supply the body with the bulk of the calories it needs. The amount of calories each person needs depends on his or her age, size, and level of physical activity. Sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, grains and cereal products, dried beans, peas, and lentils. Sources of fat include butter, margarine, oils, nuts, seeds, and the fat in meats, fish, and poultry.

Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins and minerals help ensure proper growth and development. In addition, they allow the body to use the energy (calories) supplied in foods. A person who eats a balanced diet with enough calories and protein usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. However, eating a balanced diet can be challenging when you are receiving cancer treatment, particularly if treatment side effects persist for long periods of time. When that is the case, your doctor or dietitian may recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Water: Water and fluids are vital to health. If you do not take in enough fluids or if you are vomiting or have diarrhea, you may become dehydrated. Ask your doctor or nurse how much fluid you need each day to prevent dehydration.
You can use the American Cancer Society Guidelines for Nutrition for Cancer Prevention below to help you plan what to eat each day. The guidelines serve as a general guide for healthy people that lets you choose a healthful diet. People with cancer, however, may have increased nutritional needs. For example, your doctor or dietitian may suggest increasing the number of servings of specific types of food.

  • Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains and sugars.
  • Limit consumption of red meats, especially those high in fat and processed.
  • Choose foods that help you maintain a healthful weight.

Nutrition After Treatment Ends :

Most eating-related side effects of cancer treatments go away after the treatment ends. Sometimes, however, side effects such as poor appetite, dry mouth, change in taste or smell, difficulty swallowing, or significant weight loss may persist. If this happens to you, talk to your health care team and work out a plan together to address the problem.

As you begin to feel better, you may have questions about eating a healthful diet. Just as you wanted to go into treatment with the necessary nutrient stores that your diet could give you, you’ll want to do the best for yourself at this important time. There’s no research that suggests that the foods you eat will prevent your cancer from recurring. But, eating well will help you regain your strength, rebuild tissue, and feel better overall.

Suggestions For Healthy Eating After Cancer :

  • Check with your doctor for any food or diet restrictions.
  • Ask your dietitian to help you create a nutritious, balanced eating plan.
  • Choose a variety of foods from all the food groups. Use the American Cancer Society Guidelines for Nutrition for Cancer Prevention to help choose foods for a well-balanced meal plan.
  • Try to eat at least five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables.
  • Eat plenty of high-fiber foods, such as whole grain breads and cereals.
  • Buy a new fruit, vegetable, low-fat food, or whole grain product each time you shop for groceries.
  • Decrease the amount of fat in your meals by baking or broiling foods.
  • Choose low-fat milk and dairy products.
  • Avoid salt-cured, smoked, and pickled foods.
  • Drink alcohol only occasionally if you choose to drink.
  • If you are overweight, consider losing weight by reducing the amount of fat in your diet and increasing your activity.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Source: American Cancer Society.