Good nutrition is very important for people with cancer. There may be some nutritional changes you can make now that will help you during treatment. Start by eating a healthy diet. This can make you stronger, help you maintain your weight, and help you fight infection. It may even help with the side effects of treatment.
How Treatment Can Affect Your Eating
If your weight is below normal, you may need to gain weight before your surgery. In this resource, you will find suggestions for how to eat more calories and protein. This can help you put on weight before surgery and help you heal afterward.
If you’re having mouth, throat, or stomach surgery, it can be hard for you to eat after your surgery. You may need to get nutrition in other ways, such as intravenously (through a vein), through a tube in your nose, or through a tube in your stomach or the upper part of your intestine.
Radiation treatment to the head and neck can cause trouble swallowing, taste changes, dry mouth, or soreness in the mouth or throat. Treatment to the chest can cause you to have trouble swallowing. Treatment to the stomach, abdominal (belly) area, or pelvis can cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, and bloating.
Many chemotherapy medications can affect your digestive system. They can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased appetite, diarrhoea, constipation, weight gain or loss, and changes in the way you taste or smell food.
Immunotherapy stimulates your body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Side effects include:
Nausea and vomiting
Changes in the taste of food
Fatigue (feeling unusually tired)
Hormonal therapy uses medications that stop your body from making some hormones or change the way they work. Side effects include changes in appetite, water retention, weight gain, and nausea and vomiting.
General Nutritional Guidelines
Vitamin and mineral supplements
You can get all of your daily recommended nutrients from a well-balanced diet. If your diet is lacking, taking a low-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement can help, but check with your Doctor beforehand.
Some people take large amounts of antioxidants, herbs, or extra vitamins and minerals because they think it will help cure their cancer. This hasn’t been shown to help in the fight against cancer. During some kinds of cancer treatments, this can actually harm you. If you’re thinking about taking any vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements, talk with your doctor first. A dietitian or pharmacist can also answer your questions.
Alternative and complementary therapies
You may have read or heard about alternative therapies like following an alternative diet or taking supplements. Sometimes, these are used in place of conventional treatment from an oncologist (a doctor who specializes in cancer). The safety and effectiveness of many of these treatments have not been confirmed. We do know that some aren’t safe. Others can interfere with your chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor or nurse before you start any of these treatments. They could make your treatment less effective and cause harm.
Complementary therapies can help people cope with some of the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. They can also help reduce stress and promote a feeling of well-being. They don’t cause any harm. Complementary therapies include:
Calories and Protein
The suggestions in this resource may be different from the general nutrition guidelines you may already know. You may be told to add more of a certain food to increase your intake of calories and protein or to decrease your discomfort with eating. Your dietitian can help you find an eating plan that works best for you.
Tips for getting the most from your meals
Large meals can seem overwhelming or unappealing. This can happen when you have a decreased appetite or early satiety (feel full shortly after you start eating). The suggestions below can help you get enough calories:
Eat small meals 6 to 8 times a day instead of 3 main meals.
Serve smaller food portions on salad plates instead of dinner plates.
Drink hot chocolate, fruit juices, and protein drinks that are high in calories.
Avoid low-calorie drinks, such as water, coffee, tea, and diet drinks. Make milkshakes or smoothies.
Have your favorite snack foods available at home and at work.
Eat your favorite foods at any time of the day. For example, eat breakfast foods such as pancakes or omelettes for lunch or dinner.
Include different colours and textures of foods in your meals to make them more appealing.
Make dining a good experience by eating your meals in a pleasant, relaxing setting with family or friends.
Smells, such as bread baking or bacon frying, may help boost your appetite.
Tips for adding more protein to your diet
Your body needs a balance of calories and protein to function at its best. Your doctor or dietitian may tell you to temporarily increase the amount of protein in your diet. If you recently had surgery or have wounds, eating more protein will help you heal. The suggestions below will help you increase the amount of protein in your diet:
Eat foods rich in protein, such as chicken, fish, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and tofu.
Add cheese and diced, cooked meats to your omelettes.
Add powdered milk to creamy soups, mashed potatoes, milkshakes, and casseroles.
Snack on cheese, or peanut butter, with crackers.
Try sliced apples with cheese wedges and honey drizzled on top.
Snack on roasted nuts and sunflower, pumpkin, or chia seeds.
Try hummus with pita bread.
Add cooked meats to soups, casseroles, salads, and omelettes.
Add wheat germ or ground flax seeds to cereals, casseroles, yogurt, and meat spreads.
Eat desserts that are made with eggs. These include puddings, custards, and cheesecakes.
Add grated cheese to sauces, vegetables, and soups. You can also add it to baked or mashed potatoes, casseroles, and salads.
Melt cheese on hamburgers and breaded meats.
Add chickpeas, kidney beans, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and cooked meats or fish to your salads.
Tips for adding more calories to your diet
The suggestions below can help you to eat more calories. They may seem to go against what you read and hear about healthy eating. However, while you’re healing, it’s more important that you get enough calories than eat only healthy foods.
Don’t eat foods that are fat-free or reduced in fat. Avoid food and drink labels that say “low-fat,” “non-fat,” or “diet.” For example, use whole milk instead of skimmed.
Snack on dried fruits, nuts, or dried seeds. Add them to hot cereals, ice cream, or salads.
Drink fruit nectars or fruit shakes.
Add butter, margarine, or oils to potatoes, rice, and pasta. Also add them to cooked vegetables, sandwiches, toast, and hot cereals.
Add cream cheese to toast or use it as a spread on vegetables.
Spread cream cheese and jam or peanut butter and jelly on crackers.
Add jelly or honey to breads and crackers.
Mix jam with diced fruit and use it as a topping over ice cream or cake.
Snack on tortilla chips with guacamole. Add avocado slices to your salads.
Use high-calorie dressings on salads, baked potatoes, and on chilled cooked vegetables, such as green beans or asparagus.
Add sour cream, half and half, or heavy cream to mashed potatoes and cake and cookie recipes. You can also add it to pancake batter, sauces, gravies, soups, and casseroles.
Cakes, waffles, French toast, fruits, puddings, and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
Make vegetables or pasta with cream sauces.
Use mayonnaise, creamy salad dressing, or aioli sauce in salads, sandwiches, and vegetable dips.
Mix granola with yogurt or put it on top of ice cream or fruits.
Top your ice cream or unfrosted cakes with sweetened condensed milk. Combine the condensed milk with peanut butter to add more calories and flavor.
Add croutons to your salads or omelets.
Include bread stuffing as a side dish with your meals.
Drink homemade shakes. You can also drink high-calorie, high-protein drinks.