Family Health: Nutrition crucial while undergoing cancer treatment

Whether it is cancer prevention, cancer treatment or advanced cancer, nutrition can play a vital role in maximizing your quality of life.

It is important to take control where you can and by being well informed about your nutritional needs during cancer you can do just that. In any stage of life and in any situation, maintaining great nutrition can increase the quality of your life exponentially – a cancer diagnosis is no exception.

Eating the right foods can help a patient feel better, stay stronger and maintain higher energy levels. Good nutrition can keep body tissue healthy and fight infection, as well as help the body recover and heal, and prevent or treat problems such as muscle or bone loss. Finally, getting adequate dietary protein can help keep your body from breaking down muscle for fuel.

General nutrition tips for coping with cancer and side effects of treatment:

  • Generally, no foods are off limits. You likely need the calories and protein, so eat what works for you. Once you get through treatment, you can start eating better for long-term health.
  • Maintain flexibility. Your taste buds will be different with cancer. Find out what tastes good to you now (it likely has changed).
  • Have snacks on hand and available for when you are hungry (it might not last).
  • Try to eat small amounts frequently throughout the day – it will add up and benefit you in the end.
  • Change your expectations. You will need to see food as fuel and the path toward healing. You may not get enjoyment out of eating currently, but that likely will change again, too.
  • If foods are too sweet, try sour, tart or mildly sweet smoothies – you can add a number of beneficial ingredients (i.e. protein powder, fruits, veggies, flax seed) – so that you can get your protein, antioxidants and calories without having to eat a huge volume of food.
  • Focus on high-calorie foods like nuts, cheese, peanut butter or avocados.
  • Drink beverages that contain calories – it may not be beneficial to fill up with plain water.
  • Know that there are many phases you will go through during treatment and be flexible.
  • “Food first” is often my recommendation. However, cancer treatment is a time when nutritional supplements often are needed to get the nutrition/protein your body needs.
  • If experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore mouth, altered taste and smell, or weight change, don’t hesitate to contact a dietitian.

Life can be challenging, and coping with cancer on top of it will at times seem insurmountable, but there are things that are in your control. By learning what foods your body needs you can feel better and be able to do more of the things in your life that bring you joy. So go on and live your best life – it is still in your power to do so.

Elizabeth Kellogg is a registered dietician specializing in oncology nutrition at Community Medical Center.