Nutrition For Cancer Patients: What You Should and Shouldn’t Eat While Undergoing Treatment
Cancer patients typically undergo a wide range of treatments such as chemotherapy, biological immunotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and surgery with the aim of eradicating cancer cells in their bodies. These treatments kill cancer cells in the body, but they sometimes attack healthy body cells as well. Cancer patients have to follow diet plans that aid the fight against cancer cells in their bodies while boosting their immune systems at the same time.
Nutrition For Cancer Patients
Nutrition needs of a person living with cancer vary based on a wide range of factors such as type of cancer, the stage of the illness (i.e. is it in the treatment phase or recovery phase), the symptoms being experienced by the patient, type of treatment being used to fight the cancer and the side effects that come with it, and lastly the effect that the specific cancer has on the digestive system in terms of food consumption, tolerance, absorption. For majority of cancer patients, balancing the need to eat right while managing the symptoms of the illness can be quite challenging.
The early stages of most cancer cases are characterized by severe physiological and metabolic changes that tend to raise the nutritional needs for minerals, vitamins, fats, carbs and protein. Patients who are put on cancer treatment have very high nutritional demands that may sometimes be difficult to meet. Failure to meet these demands can cause a patient to suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition can be avoided by consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants and healthy nutrients. Having a sufficient supply of nutrients can help the body in rebuilding damaged or lost body cells.
Side Effects of Treatments on Nutrition
All types of cancer treatment methods can affect how the body digests and utilizes foods. The treatment methods can also affect a patient’s eating habits and overall nutritional needs. One common symptom that’s associated with most cancers is poor appetite which leads to reduced nutrient intake and subsequent malnutrition. Malnutrition can be accompanied by other related side effects such as:
– Sore throat and mouth
– Lactose intolerance
– Nausea and vomiting
– Gastrointestinal problems
– Changes in smell and taste
– Early satiety
– Loss of lean mass
These side effects form a huge health and nutritional risk for cancer patients. Nutrition for cancer patients varies with that of ordinary or healthy individuals. Generally, healthy individuals are urged to include a lot of fruits, veggies and whole grain cereals and breads, as well as moderate quantities of dairy and meat products in their diets. They are also urged to cut back on salt, alcohol, sugary foods and fat.
However, for cancer patients, things are a little bit different as the main goal of their diet is to boost energy. Cancer patients are urged to consume energy-rich foods that can counteract the side effects of malnutrition and weight loss that often accompany most cancer treatments. Cancer patients are known to suffer from significant weight loss due to changes in their metabolism and appetite. It is widely known that cancer patients, especially those on chemotherapy, can lose their appetite completely leading to severe malnutrition. Malnutrition can predispose a patient to poor health and a wide range of illnesses due to a weakened immune system.
More than 50% of cancer patients report significant weight loss after undergoing treatment. The prevalence of nutritional challenges among patients is high. Nutritional challenges are common among patients suffering from all kinds of cancers. So, what can patients do to overcome these challenges:
What Should A Cancer Patient Eat?
Nutrition for cancer patients involves consuming more calories than usual in order to keep your energy levels high. Energy-rich diets that include lots of healthy proteins such as cooked eggs, cheese, cream and milk can help to replenish the body mass and energy lost due to cancer treatment. The best sources of energy are protein rich foods that are also low in saturated fat such as legumes, seeds, nuts, low-fat dairy products, eggs, lean meat and poultry as well as fish.
A person who’s on cancer treatment such as chemo may also be allowed to consume foods that are rich in fat such as snacks. Also, they are allowed to eat more gravies and sauces, as well as eat foods that have been cooked using oil, margarine or butter. However, there is one exception to this rule which is in cases where cancer does not lead to weight loss. Some cancers are known to lead to weight gain which can in turn cause obesity. Being obese or overweight can hinder your cancer treatment. For cases where the cancer treatment may lead to weight gain, patients are advised to eat a diet that is low in high-fat foods.
Which Foods Kill Cancer Cells?
Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have significant benefits for people undergoing cancer treatment. Omega-3 fatty acids are sometimes referred to as ‘miracle’ compounds as they have the power to significantly improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known improve the effects of certain forms of treatments. However, more research is needed to ascertain the health benefits of these compounds for cancer patients. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish and nuts.
Iron is another crucial nutrient that cancer patients should strive to include in their diets. Iron is crucial in the making of new blood cells. Increased intake of iron can help a patient avoid certain side effects of malnutrition such as anaemia.
Nutrition For Cancer Patients on Chemo
Chemo is the most common treatment method for a wide range of cancers. Patients can adopt various nutritional strategies while undergoing chemo in order to increase their chances of recovery. Some of these strategies include:
– Eat small but more frequent meals throughout the day. Also, avoid liquids and stick to solid foods that are easy to chew.
– Eat homemade, fortified or processed nutrient-dense foods and beverages to improve intake of nutrients and energy.
– For patients who are not able to meet their nutritional needs using normal means, they can opt for other feeding techniques such as intravenous parenteral nutrition, or enteral nutrition via tube feeding.
– Use dietary supplements during treatment to get crucial minerals and vitamins.