Eating Well During and After Cancer Treatment

Allison Marshall, MS RD CDN CDE

Nutrition During Treatment…

Nutrition can play an important role in your cancer treatment: choosing healthy foods and consuming enough of them can provide the nutrients you need to stay strong and feel better. During treatment however, this may be a challenging task, especially when you are experiencing side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or mouth sores. Thankfully, here are some useful tips that can help boost your intake and keep you feeling as healthy as possible.

Eat when you are hungry. Most people find it easier to eat earlier in the day or after resting in the afternoon. Also, try to bring high-calorie, high-protein snacks, such as nuts, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit or a liquid meal replacement, when you go out so that you always have something on hand when you feel like eating.

Try 5 or 6 small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of large meals. Smaller portions of foods may be less overwhelming and easier to digest. When it is too hard to eat food, consider drinking a liquid meal replacement or smoothie made with protein powder.

Choose foods that are high in protein and calories. High protein foods include eggs, cheese, nuts and nut butters, yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, poultry, fish, and beans. High calorie foods include olive and canola oils, butter, sour cream, milk, salad dressing, smoothies, creamy soups, and pasta.

Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Even if you are unable to eat, it is important to drink liquids throughout the day. Choose water, 100% juices, sports drinks, soups and broths, milk, and soy-based drinks. If you feel full very quickly during meals, have small sips of liquids with your food and have larger drinks between meals.

Choose soft, cool or frozen foods. Foods such as yogurt, milkshakes, applesauce, puddings, and popsicles are easy to eat and can be soothing when you have mouth pain or difficulty chewing.

Be active. Even light physical activity, such as a 10-minute stroll, can improve your appetite, elevate your mood, and increase your interest in food.

Talk with your doctor and registered dietitian if you are having symptoms that interfere with eating. Side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, changes in smell and taste, and dry mouth, may improve with certain prescription medications and over-the-counter treatments.

Nutrition After Treatment…

Once cancer treatment is over, proper nutrition can help your body recover, improve overall health, and may even reduce the risk of recurrence. Most side effects begin to subside shortly after treatment has ended, and many people can gradually return to their normal – or better yet, healthier – diet.

Add raw and cooked fruits and vegetables to your meal plan. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Try to make it a habit of including fruit for breakfast and vegetables and/or salad with lunch and dinner every day. Fruits and vegetables also make great snacks.

Choose “complex” carbohydrates. Whole wheat bread pasta, oats and oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and high-fiber, low-sugar cereals are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are a healthy source of energy.

Include lean sources of protein with your meals. Seafood, skinless poultry, lean beef and pork, tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters rebuild tissue and help you regain your strength.

Use healthy cooking methods. Try to steam, grill, bake, or roast instead of frying. Also, try heart-healthy canola or olive oil in place of butter and cream.

Try to limit your intake of alcohol and smoked or pickled foods. Instead, try the non-alcoholic versions of your favorite drinks and season your foods with fresh herbs and spices.

Drink plenty of water!

Water is an essential nutrient for your metabolism, cleansing of toxins from cancer treatment, and an energy-booster. Aim for at least 6 to 8 glasses per day, in addition to other non-calorie or low-calories beverages.

Remember, your nutrition needs during and after treatment for cancer are complex, and you may benefit from an individualized meal plan to address your specific symptoms and side effects. A Registered Dietitian can work with you and your doctors to help manage your specific conditions and concerns before, during and after treatment.