People with cancer often require more calories than usual. A healthy, well-balanced diet should consist of nutrient-dense, whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, protein sources, and healthy fats. Following a healthy diet may help reduce specific chemotherapy-related side effects among cancer patients.
You may need to increase your protein and calorie intake during chemotherapy treatment by consuming extra calories and protein-rich foods like fish, eggs, and beans. You may also need to change the texture and consistency of your meals to make them easier to chew and swallow.
Chemotherapy kills both cancerous and healthy cells. This can complicate eating, such as nausea, sore mouth, and loss of appetite.
This article will discuss the importance of nutrition during chemotherapy treatment and how to manage chemotherapy-associated eating problems.
Why is nutrition important for cancer patients?
Good nutrition is essential for people with cancer, as the condition and treatments can affect how the body tolerates certain foods and uses nutrients.
Eating well while undergoing chemotherapy can help you in the following way:
- It maintains your body’s nutrient stores
- It keeps your energy and strength up
- It lowers your risk of infection
- It heals and recovers more quickly
- It tolerates treatment-related side effects in a better way
You must get enough of the following nutrients to maintain your immune system and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy:
The body needs protein to repair body tissue, grow, and keep the immune system healthy. If you do not get enough protein, your body may begin to break down muscle tissue for the fuel it needs, making it harder to recover from illness. After chemotherapy, you usually require extra protein to help fight infection and heal tissues. Protein-rich foods include fish, eggs, lean red meat, nuts, lentils.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. They give the body the fuel for physical activity and proper organ function. You can get carbohydrates in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Fats and oils are made of fatty acids and serve as a rich energy source for the body. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissue, and transport some vitamins through the blood. When having chemotherapy, you may require more fats to help maintain energy. At the same time, you should avoid trans fatty acids and choose healthier fats found in nuts, seeds, and nut butter, olive oil, avocados, and dairy products such as yogurt.
Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Getting enough vitamins and minerals is significant to overall health. A well-rounded diet is the best way to ensure your optimal intake of vitamins and minerals. However, some people with cancer may need to supplement with specific vitamins and minerals.
30–90% of people may have an inadequate diet, depending on the type of cancer. For example, people undergoing chemotherapy are more likely to be deficient in several nutrients, such as vitamin D, iron, magnesium, and folate. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and stop them from damaging healthy cells. They include specific vitamins and minerals, such as:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
You can consume more antioxidants by eating different fruits and vegetables. Doctors do not recommend taking large doses of antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy.
Phytonutrients or phytochemicals, such as lycopene, carotenoids, and phytosterols, are plant compounds. Research suggests they have health-protecting properties.
Plants like vegetables and fruits or products from plants like tea and tofu contain phytonutrients.
Chemotherapy can cause several eating problems as common side effects of the treatment. These may include:
A person may lose their appetite partially or entirely while having chemotherapy. Some people lose their appetite for just 1–2 days, while others experience appetite loss throughout their treatment.
How to manage appetite loss
- Drink a liquid or powdered meal replacement.
- Eat five or six smaller meals daily instead of three large meals.
- Keep snacks close at hand to eat when possible.
- Take frequent sips of liquids that add calories and nutrients, such as juice, milk, or soup.
Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy. It can make it difficult for a person to eat and feel like vomiting.
How to manage nausea
- eating foods that are easy on the stomach, such as plain toast or clear broth
- regularly eating, even if it is just tiny snacks
- not forcing any particular foods and choosing to eat foods they enjoy
- shipping small amounts of liquid throughout the day
- eating food and drinks that are at room temperature
- eating dry toast or crackers before going to bed
Chemotherapy may cause mouth sores and tender gums, making eating uncomfortable.
How to manage sore mouth
- Choose easy-to-chew foods, such as scrambled eggs, custards, and milkshakes.
- Soften food with sauces, broth, or gravy.
- Eat with a smaller spoon to help take smaller bites.
- Eat cold or room temperature foods.
- Avoid foods that can hurt the mouth, such as citrus fruits, chilli peppers, salty foods, and sharp, crunchy food.
Chemotherapy may inflame the lining of the throat, causing a problem called esophagitis. This may make a person feel like they have a lump or that their throat is burning.
How to manage trouble swallowing
- Choose foods that are easier to swallow, such as milkshakes, cooked cereal, or scrambled eggs.
- Cook foods until they are soft and tender.
- Cut food into smaller pieces, or puree it using a blender.
- Sip drinks through a straw.
- Avoid hot, spicy, acidic, sharp, and crunchy foods.
Cancer may cause weight loss or weight loss may be a side effect of the treatment.
How to manage weight loss
- Eat on a schedule instead of waiting to feel hungry.
- Eat foods high in calories and protein.
- Drink milkshakes, smoothies, or juices.
- Add protein powders to meals, such as oatmeal, smoothies, and soups
Pain medicines, changes to eating habits, and less physical activity can make it harder to pass stools.
How to manage constipation
- drinking more liquid
- using laxatives if the cancer care team recommends them
- increasing physical activity
- limiting foods and drinks that can cause gas
Getting the proper nutrients is important during chemotherapy. Eating well can help faster recovery, prevent infection, and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. People undergoing chemotherapy are more vulnerable to disease, so it is essential to maintain food safety and hygiene. You should store food at the correct temperature and practice good food hygiene. Try to include protein-rich foods, healthy fats, and high-fiber foods in their diets during chemotherapy. Before, during, and after chemotherapy, you should maintain a balanced diet and keep your protein and calories healthy. You can adjust your diet to deal with eating problems, such as nausea, a sore mouth, or weight loss.