How to eat during cancer treatment
Undergoing cancer treatment is never easy, especially when the side effects of radiation or chemotherapy kick in. The side effects of cancer treatment can leave you exhausted, feeling sick to your stomach, and without an appetite. Even if eating is the last thing you want to do, consuming healthy foods is a key in helping you get through treatment. Here are some cancer treatment diet tips that will make eating easier, no matter what symptoms you're experiencing.
Loss of appetite
When you don't feel like eating, it is easy to forgo a meal. To keep you from depriving your body of nutrients, try these tips:
- Eat when you're hungry, even if it is just a small amount of food.
- Create a schedule and eat at the same times every day.
- Eat smaller portions.
- Pre-make meals and snacks (like boiled eggs, mixed nuts, etc.) so if you're not that hungry (or don't have the urge to cook), you can still grab something nutritious.
Cancer treatments can sap your energy to the point you don't want to prepare a meal or even eat. To ensure you consume enough nutrients:
- Buy healthy prepackaged meals and snacks that require very little preparation.
- Eat foods that are dense or calorie-rich.
- Get a meal delivery service to drop off healthy meals to your home (that way you don't have to worry about cooking).
Nausea and vomiting
If you have the energy and desire to eat, but feel nauseous at the smell or sight of food, here are a few tips to help you keep things down:
- Drink lots of fluids (sometimes nausea stems from dehydration caused by treatment).
- Drink cold fluids (they calm an overwhelmed stomach).
- Eat foods or drink fluids containing ginger.
- Eat slowly and stop if you're full.
A sore, dry mouth or throat
Radiation to the head and neck can change the type and amount of saliva your mouth produces, leaving your mouth and throat dry, sore and irritated. Here are some ways to cope:
- Rinse your mouth with watered-down mouthwash once a day to kill any bacteria that may cause sore throats.
- Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
- Try eating smaller, more frequent meals (they require less chewing and exertion of your mouth's muscles).
- Eat foods that are easy to swallow, like ice cream or soup, or make it a habit to suck on popsicles before you eat to "chill" your throat.
- If you find rich dairy products hard to swallow, use lower fat milk products (for example, swap ice cream for low-fat yogurt).
- Dip bread in olive oil or add butter and sauces to foods so they're easier to swallow.
Changes in taste
Chemotherapy can alter you tastebuds, making certain foods seem less appealing. If this happens:
- Add seasoning and sauces to meats or fish.
- To cope with any bitter, metallic taste that develops in your mouth, eat lots of lean foods like turkey or chicken. You can also try eggs, tofu or peanut butter.
- Use plastic utensils instead of metal ones.
- Listen to what your body is telling you and only choose foods that look or smell good.
- Avoid foods that have a strong aftertaste (like certain types of fish).
- Water down foods that have a strong flavor (be it spicy, sweet or salty).
Whether it's diarrhea or constipation, changes to one's bowel movements are common during cancer treatment. Here is how you can cope:
- Drink lots of fluids, including water or fruit juice, which will help flush backed-up bowels.
- Avoid caffeinated products (they dehydrate and can make bowel problems worse).
- Avoid high fat foods and reach for fresh fruits and vegetables (they contain more fiber and help to regulate the digestive system).
- Change the amount of fiber in your diet (if you're constipated increase the amount, if you're experiencing diarrhea, decrease it).
- Remove the skins and seeds from fruits (it makes them easier to digest).
- Avoid foods that will make you gassy, like gum, carbonated beverages, caffeine, beans, broccoli or Brussels sprouts.