When an individual receives a cancer diagnosis, and undergoes treatment thereafter, it isn’t uncommon to feel a loss of control. The diagnosis can be overwhelming to say the least, and not knowing the outcome can be even more terrifying. Patients must depend on complicated and difficult treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, which can last for weeks or months and can be harsh on the body.
A patient’s diet during cancer treatment, however, is something that can offer some control. Diet is also an important part of the treatment process itself – what patients eat can boost their immune system, maintain necessary weight and muscle tissue, keep them hydrated, and even combat unpleasant side effects.
Below are five dietary tips for those undergoing cancer treatment that can help supplement their chemotherapy and radiation plans:
One common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation is nausea. As a result, patients might not only lose the urge to eat, but even dread it. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recommends that patients dealing with this side effect adopt a bland diet: “Bland diets are generally helpful for people with digestion problems. This includes those with nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or changes in taste,” the hospital explains. The BRAT diet, for example, includes foods that are gentle on the stomach such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Although the word ‘diet’ is usually associated eating fewer calories, cancer patients often must eat more to maintain a healthy weight throughout treatment. This can become quite difficult when nausea and vomiting are common side effects. The American Cancer Society recommends choosing foods packed with calories: “Drink high-calorie, high-protein beverages like milk shakes and canned liquid supplements,” the organization writes. Patients can also add butter to meals, by melting it over pasta and potatoes or mixing it into soups. The National Cancer Institute has suggestions, also, like adding granola to breads, yogurts, and ice cream.
Another way to get necessary calories is for patients to not only change what they eat, but also when they eat it. Patients with appetite loss or nausea may find it difficult to eat three square meals a day. Instead, patients can snack throughout the day, says the National Cancer Institute. The Institute recommends “quick and easy snacks” like cheese and crackers, nuts, fresh and canned fruit, and granola bars.
Eating specific foods may reduce some of the side effects that make treatment so difficult. “Certain foods can help ease the common discomforts from cancer treatment,” explains WebMD. For example, lentils and dried fruit help with constipation. Patients can eat bananas to combat diarrhea. Foods can also be pureed to help with dry mouth.
Choosing the right diet also means being smart about what and how often you drink. “Drink fluids frequently — this will prevent dehydration and remove some of the byproducts of the chemotherapy,” notes Standford Healthcare. Water is usually the best choice, but there are other options as well. Apple juice, grape juice, Gatorade, as well as ginger and mint teas are all fine choices.
Treating cancer requires a multi-pronged approach. Much of treatment happens at hospitals and doctors office, but an important part — what patients eat — happens at home. By following a healthy diet, patients can play an integral role in their own treatment.
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