Nutrition during cancer treatment is different than normal nutritional recommendations. Each person reacts differently to cancer therapy and may or may not have side effects related to the treatment or of the cancer itself. Side effects may include loss of appetite, taste changes, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, swallowing difficulty or chewing problems, depending on the location of the cancer being treated.
Cancer itself can affect calorie and nutrient requirements. Calorie needs will be increased, and you may lose weight. Recommendations are to eat a diet high in calories and protein, along with eating foods high in nutritional value to prevent changes in nutritional status.
General nutrition recommendations for patients having trouble eating or who are losing weight:
- Eat a diet high in calories and protein.
- Eat well on the days you feel better.
- Choose a variety of healthy foods including meats, or beans and nuts, fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, milk and dairy foods.
- If losing weight, eat small, frequent meals, as many as 5-6 times or more per day with foods chosen from high calorie, high protein foods.
- Drink nutrition supplements to improve calorie and nutrient intake.
- Drink at least 64 ounces (two quarts or eight cups) of water, milk, or juice since fluid intake is important to prevent dehydration.
- A general multivitamin is usually okay, but check with your doctor first. Avoid taking large amounts of any vitamins or minerals.
During cancer treatment, the immune system can be decreased which makes it easier to get sick. Basic food safety hints should be followed to prevent foodborne illness. Some hints to follow are listed below:
- Wash hands frequently during food preparation with soap and warm water.
- All fruits and vegetables, even the pre-washed bagged types, should be washed with plain water before eating.
- Avoid raw meats or undercooked foods including raw seafood (oysters, sashimi) or eggs.
- Thaw meats in the refrigerator or in the microwave, not at room temperature.
- Refrigerate leftover food within two hours of cooking at a temperature less than 40 degrees. In addition, meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and poultry to 180 degrees or until juices run clear.
- Cut fruits and vegetables on a clean cutting board, and sanitize the cutting board after chopping meats with soap and hot water.
- Throw away foods that you are not sure are safe to eat. Never eat a food that is slimy or has obvious mold on it.
More information is available from the sources listed below: