When a loved one is fighting pancreatic cancer, it’s natural to ask: what can I do to help? In honor of National Pancreatic Awareness Month in November, here is a list of dietary tips to ease the digestive pain associated with pancreatic cancer and its treatments. A pancreatic cancer diet is minimally restrictive and serves to not only ease discomfort, but also encourage patients to eat regularly.
The pancreas is the gland that secretes insulin, which makes it essential in digestion – particularly, in the digestion of carbohydrates, but also in the digestion of protein and fats. Your loved one may experience a variety of digestive symptoms from pancreatic cancer including nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, gas, bloating, and unintended weight loss from lack of eating to avoid pain.
As a caregiver, you can help ease some of these symptoms by adjusting not only their diet, but your family’s diet as well. These guidelines can encourage a healthy pancreatic cancer diet by simply making a few changes to when and what your family eats.
A diet for pancreatic cancer patients should consist of 5 – 6 small meals or snacks every 3 – 4 hours throughout the day. These smaller amounts of food are easier to digest by putting less stress on the digestive system to process an entire meal. In addition, smaller portions in one sitting can help keep nausea to a minimum. It may not be simple to change eating habits, but there are tips to successfully transitioning to eating smaller portions more frequently.
Whenever possible, your entire family should eat together. Eating as a family makes meals more enjoyable and may encourage your loved one to eat more and focus more on the company and less on their discomfort.
To avoid bloating (or feeling too full to eat), your loved one should drink fluids an hour before or after a meal. During meals, it’s best to stick to small sips.
Standing up after eating or even sitting up can minimize acid reflux. Lying down after a meal causes stomach acid to rise into the esophagus, which can cause heartburn, gas, bloating, and burping. Don’t schedule meals too close to bedtime as digestion may disrupt sleep.
Each one of the small meals should be as nutrient-dense as possible. A diet for pancreatic cancer patients should include healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados. These fats found in mostly plant foods should replace unhealthy fats. Avoid unhealthy fats, known as saturated and trans fats, because they are hard to digest and put unneeded stress on the digestive system. These bad fats can be easily identified as anything fried, greasy, and heavily processed.
Other important nutrients needed for a pancreatic cancer patient include complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains are nutritionally important by keeping energy levels consistent throughout the day, but may contain too much fiber to be comfortably included if your loved one’s pancreatic cancer eating problems include diarrhea. If you notice your loved one’s symptoms grow worse after they adopt these new foods into their diet, see a registered dietician who can provide personalized recommendations balancing specific dietary needs as no two patients are the same.
Because the pancreas and the insulin it secretes are so essential to the digestion of sugar, very sweet foods especially those that contain processed sugars such as candy and any store-bought treats may be difficult for a pancreatic cancer patient to digest and can exacerbate digestive problems. In addition to sweets, hidden sugars lie in beverages too such as juices, liquor, and soda. Try to keep these drinks to a minimum or cut them out completely. Instead, encourage your loved one and the family to drink water almost exclusively if possible. Additional drinks such as liquid nutrition supplements and homemade smoothies with no added sugar or juices are safe as well.
The most important thing to encourage the long-term adoption of a new diet is being cognizant of its effects. Daily monitoring of what the pancreatic cancer patient is eating, subsequent changes in symptoms, bowel movement characteristics, and weight should be written down in a journal. If any new patterns appear, the journal can help you and your loved one with the help of a dietician pinpoint the cause and adjust the diet.
With the help of the journal, you can more easily identify which foods are causing what symptoms and personalize a diet that will minimize uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Recording bowel movements can also indicate if the patient is deficient in a certain vitamin, which can lead the oncology team to recommend the right vitamin and appropriate dosage. Since your oncology team and dietician are not with you all the time, this journal can be extremely helpful for them to gain insight and recommend an effective dietary regimen.
Whether you or your loved one’s pancreatic cancer treatment involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of the three, living with pancreatic cancer and going through treatment can be a challenging time for patients and their families. If financial limitations are preventing you or your loved one from obtaining adequate treatment while maintaining quality of life, Fifth Season Financial’s Funds for Living and Giving (FLAG) financial assistance program can help you access funds from your life insurance policy while keeping the policy in place. If you qualify for funding, Fifth Season will advance you funds immediately based on the face value of your policy while taking over your premium payments and likely providing funds later on for your beneficiaries. Learn more by contacting us at (866) 899-2330 for a free consultation or by requesting more information online.
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