Cancer treatment – whether it is surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone or biological therapy, or a combination of these – is known to cause side effects. Taste changes and loss of appetite are common side effects that can affect your desire and ability to eat. Because your body thrives off the fuel that you feed it, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on your diet when undergoing cancer treatment. You’re likely battling a very serious disease, so you must ensure that your body is getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients. Taste changes and loss of appetite are just a few of the side effects cancer patients will suffer from while undergoing treatment. However, these two symptoms should never be overlooked.
These side effects vary with each person, and depend on factors such as age, overall health, type of cancer, and how nourished you are when you begin your treatment.
It is important to maintain a balanced diet during treatment. Good nutrition during cancer treatment:
- Lowers your risk of infection
- Helps you maintain strength and energy
- Provides better sense of well-being
- Helps decrease cancer-related fatigue
- Maintains your weight
But, how do you reap those benefits and what exactly should you eat? While you should always talk with your health care provider about specific foods to consume and avoid, here are some key nutrients that should be included in your daily diet:
Fats (use in modest amounts to flavor foods)
Vitamins and minerals*
*Do not take vitamin or mineral supplements without consulting your doctor or nurse.
While nutritional needs will vary for each person undergoing cancer treatment, general hints to follow include:
- Eat four to six smaller meals a day.
- Rather than eating three big meals, this will ensure you get enough nutrients and keep you full all day.
- Do not diet during treatment.
- Treatment can drain your energy. Certain diets limit foods that are important to maintain your weight and keep your energy levels up.
- Fully cook all meats, poultry, fish, eggs.
- You should cook everything well-done so it destroys bacteria that can cause food borne illness.
- Avoid salad bars and buffets.
- With salad bars and buffets, there is a risk of improper temperature control and there are many people handling utensils, which spread germs easily.
Nutritional supplements may occasionally replace a meal or a snack, but talk with your doctor to confirm that this would be helpful. And, when you aren’t eating at home, carefully select your restaurants with cleanliness and food safety in mind. You should look at nutrition as a part of your cancer treatment. This is a time where you should focus on yourself, your health, and staying strong to beat cancer for good!
If you’re interested in understanding more about what diet and nutrition options may benefit you while you undergo treatment for cancer, visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center or and make an appointment with the registered, licensed dietitians at Nutritional Services. They specialize in diet and nutrition for those being treated for cancer. Talk with your oncologist or oncology nurse for more information.