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A Recipe for Getting the Nutrition You Need during Cancer Treatment

by Holly Clegg

Wellness image

Eating high-calorie, low-volume snacks can help you maintain your weight when your appetite just isn’t there.

Anyone who’s been diagnosed with cancer knows that cancer and the side effects of treatment can affect the body in many differ­ent ways. People undergoing cancer treatment may experience loss of appetite, taste and smell changes, sore throat, diarrhea, consti­pation, and a lack of energy. All these changes can make maintaining adequate calories and nutrition difficult.

However, it’s important for cancer survivors to make sure that good nutrition doesn’t fall by the wayside during treatment. A healthy diet can help you keep up your strength and boost your immune system. What you eat may also make a difference in how well you handle treatment.

When going through treatment, your diet is in constant flux, changing with taste, intolerance of certain foods, and caloric needs. However, despite these challenges, it is possible to eat well and stay properly nourished during cancer treatment.

Author of Article photo

Holly Clegg

What to Eat during Chemo
On the morning of your scheduled chemother­apy treatment, try eating a low-fat, light meal. For example, cereal, toast, oatmeal, grits, or fruit salad. In the 24 hours fol­lowing treatment, you may want to stick to liquids, soups, puddings, and sand­wiches. Try to avoid high-fat, fried, or greasy foods for the first 24 to 48 hours following treatment. Instead, opt for easier-to-tolerate foods and lighter reci­pes to help boost your immune system and give you strength and energy. Sup­plemental nutritional drinks, like Boost, are also good choices if you don’t feel like eating solid foods.

If you find that only two foods ap­peal to you, then there is nothing wrong with eating those two foods until you feel ready to expand your diet. If break­fast food is what appeals to you, then go ahead and have it for dinner also.

The Importance of Snacking
Snacks are strongly encouraged during cancer treatment, as it is sometimes easier to eat several small meals or snacks throughout the day rather than three large meals. Eating high-calorie, low-volume snacks can help you maintain your weight when your appetite just isn’t there. Keep cheese, dips, fruit, nuts, popcorn, and crackers on hand for quick snacks. Smoothies also make good snacks, especially for people with mouth sores or those for whom strong smells are off-putting. Not to mention, smoothies are a good way to sneak extra fruit and veggies into your diet.

Pile on the Protein
When going through cancer treatment, it’s impor­tant to avoid losing too much weight. Research has shown that cancer survi­vors who maintain their weight and eat a healthy diet have fewer complications from chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery – with shorter hospital stays, reduced illness, and fewer infections. They also tend to better preserve their strength and have an improved sense of well-being.

Adding protein to your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, give your body fuel to build and repair tis­sues, and protect your immune system. Without enough protein, your body may take longer to recover from illness, and you may have a lower resistance to infection. Following surgery, chemo­therapy, or radiation therapy, most cancer survivors need additional protein to help the body heal damaged tissue and to help prevent infection. Good sources of protein include legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, cheese, beef, and chicken breasts. You can also add a little nonfat instant dry milk to scram­bled eggs, soup, cereal, and sauces to infuse some extra protein into your diet.

Don’t Forget to Hydrate
Hydration is essential during cancer treatment. Try keeping a glass of water with you at all times. I recommend drinking eight to ten glasses of water per day.

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Holly Clegg is a cookbook author and co­author (with oncologist Gerald Miletello, MD) of Eating Well Through Cancer: Easy Recipes & Tips to Guide You Through Treatment and Cancer Prevention, which has recently been re-released as a special revised and expanded 15th Anniversary edi­tion. Visit HollyClegg.com to learn more.

You can find recipes and more tips from Holly at TheHealthyCookingBlog.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2016.