What to Eat During Cancer Treatment
Some medical treatments for cancer, including radiation of the head and neck or chemotherapy, can cause changes to the way in which food tastes and smells while also making people feel full much earlier. In addition, the American Cancer Society reports that more than half of people who are diagnosed with cancer have already experienced substantial weight loss and have poor nutrition by the time that they are diagnosed.1 When this is compounded by changes in the taste and smell of food, cancer patients may lose even more weight and become malnourished.
Getting adequate nutrition during cancer treatment is vital to the treatment outcomes of cancer patients. The National Cancer Institute reports that getting proper nutrition before, during, and after cancer treatment can help patients to feel healthier and to maintain their strength.2 Staying strong can also help the body to fight cancer more effectively and aid in the recovery process. This makes it important for people to choose foods that are healthy and nutritious during cancer treatment and foods that can help with the side effects of treatment.
Choose Healthy and Nutritious Food to Stay Fueled
According to Cancer.net, chemotherapy causes taste changes in about 50 percent of patients, and radiation to the head and neck can damage the salivary glands and taste buds, which affect taste.3 Cancer patients may have bitter or metallic tastes in their mouths, lose their ability to taste or smell food well, develop aversions to their favorite foods, and experience a reduction in their appetites. Fortunately, the changes in taste subside from three to four weeks after chemotherapy and from three weeks to two months after radiation.
Understanding the potential taste changes is important for people who learn that they have cancer and are preparing for their treatment regimens. It is important for them to make certain that they eat healthy, nutritious foods in sufficient quantities to give them the energy and strength that they need while also stopping unintended weight loss.
During cancer treatment, it is important for patients to choose healthy and nutritious foods, and there are some tricks to help them to deal with taste and smell issues. People should avoid simple carbohydrates such as white bread and sugar as some types of cancer feed on sugar. Instead, patients should choose whole grains.
Patients may find that drinking vegetable or fruit juice can help them to mask metallic or bitter tastes in their mouths. If they drink juices, they should make certain that they are 100 percent juice and have been pasteurized in order to avoid exposures to germs. Cancer patients should fill half of their plates with fruit and vegetables and should forgo fatty meats in favor of lean meats and fish. Several times per week, cancer patients should try to eat meatless meals such as vegetarian pasta dishes with whole-grain noodles or zoodles.
Patients should talk to registered dietitians about the number of calories that they should consume each day and try to adhere to the recommendations. If they are having trouble getting enough calories, they might want to add nutritional shakes that are approved by their doctors to their daily diets. Some patients report that foods smell too strong and that meat smells bad. They can try using marinades to improve the taste of meat. If foods smell bad to them, they might try to eat foods at room temperature or when they are cold because hots foods are more aromatic. Other patients report that the taste of silverware is also bad. They can switch to plastic cutlery to combat this problem.
Some other foods you should look at incorporating into your diet include the following.
- 100 percent whole grain bread
- Whole grain cereals such as steel-cut oats
- Vegetable stir-fry
Choose Foods that Also Help with Treatment Side Effects
A common problem for people who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation is dealing with the side effects. A large percentage of cancer patients experience severe side effects.
For example, a study of 1,945 women who were undergoing treatment for breast cancer found that 45 percent experienced a severe side effect, including nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and dehydration. The breast cancer patients also reported some other side effects such as pain, breast skin irritation, swelling, and shortness of breath.4
Eating certain types of foods can help with nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and dehydration, so patients are able to eat enough food and to keep it down. Patients who experience nausea during cancer treatment can combat it by choosing foods that are bland such as dry toast, rice, and bananas. They can also try eating foods at room temperature or that are cold. Nausea can also be combated by eating multiple small meals throughout the day to make certain that enough calories, vitamins, and minerals are being taken in.
Cancer patients who are dealing with constipation may also help to ease the side effect by wisely choosing nutritious foods and drinking plenty of water. Patients should strive to drink eight glasses of water every day and should choose foods that are high in fiber such as lentils, beans, and dried fruit.
Diarrhea during cancer treatment can be managed by eating bland foods that are similar to what people can eat to fight nausea. These include the foods in the classic brat diet such as bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast. Drinking plenty of water also helps to maintain the levels of hydration, which people might prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea.
Cancer patients who suffer from dehydration should make certain to drink at least eight glasses of water every day. They might also choose foods that include plenty of liquids such as soups, yogurt shakes, and milk.
Some other foods you that help with treatment side effects include the following.
- Apple sauce
- Cream of wheat
- Fresh fruit
People who are preparing to start chemotherapy or radiation regimens for the treatment of cancer should ask their doctors for referrals to registered dietitians. With a dietician’s help and careful attention to eating nutritious foods, cancer patients may be able to maintain their strength and to prevent weight loss, so their bodies may be able to fight their cancer more effectively.