Nutrition is important to you while undergoing cancer treatment. The right foods and amounts of food can help you maintain strength and support your immune system. They may also minimize hospital visits and help improve overall treatment outcomes. Here are some tips for nourishing your body during this time:
Various cancer treatments can often cause additional side effects that can reduce your appetite or desire to eat. Consider incorporating some of the tips below to address various side effects:2
If experiencing nausea and/or vomiting, try to:
Sometimes different cancer treatments and medications can alter the taste of food. If you experience a change in taste, here are some tips to make your food more palatable:
If mouth sores are present, try:
Foods that should be avoided when mouth sores are present:
If dry mouth is making eating more challenging:
Avoid eating and drinking:
If experiencing diarrhea, try to:
Avoid eating and drinking the following when you have diarrhea:
If experiencing constipation after certain medications or treatments, try to:
Sometimes cancer itself or cancer treatments can lead to a lack of energy or feeling weak. Fatigue may be improved by lifestyle and diet changes. Here are a few strategies that may help:
If you have a weakened immune system due to cancer and its treatment, it’s difficult for your body to protect itself against infection-causing germs. Therefore, certain food safety precautions must be taken to prevent food borne illness.
At home, be sure to:
At the grocery store:
There is no specific diet for when you are undergoing cancer treatment. However, the main nutritional goals include getting enough: calories (energy) and nutrients from healthy foods, protein to help maintain lean body mass and muscle mass, and fluids to stay hydrated.
You can still follow a normal, healthy diet while undergoing cancer treatment that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s important to remember every patient is different. What works for some may not work for others as people experience symptoms and side effects differently.
Many people have heard the statement “sugar feeds cancer” and feel that they need to completely avoid all sugar in order to no longer “feed” the cancer cells. To understand the role of sugar in cancer, it’s important to first understand sugar’s role in our bodies.
Our bodies need sugar (specifically glucose) to have energy. Every cell of our body needs sugar to live. The sugar that we need comes from two sources: 1) Our bodies break down the carbohydrates we eat (think: bread, oats, sweets) into sugar and 2) If we don’t get enough sugar from our food, our body will make its own sugar.
There is no conclusive research showing that eliminating dietary sources of carbohydrates and sugar results in slower cancer growth. Instead, severe carbohydrate restriction can cause the body work harder than usual to make the glucose that it needs. If all sugar is removed from the diet, the body will then make the sugar that it needs from fat and protein. This requires more energy and can stress your body further.
We also need carbohydrates to maintain healthy cell function in our bodies. Cancer cells use sugar for energy just like any other cell. We cannot “choose” which cells are fed by avoiding sugar. For those who are undergoing treatment for cancer, it is vital to feed your healthy cells by providing them with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
Avoiding sugar altogether will not help cancer treatment and could leave your healthy cells low on the energy that they need. Instead of cutting out carbohydrates altogether, focus on eating whole grains and complex carbohydrates such as: whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
It’s important to incorporate plenty of produce into your diet, regardless of how it was grown. Despite the overwhelming health benefits of fruits and vegetables, many Americans do not consume the recommended amount of produce: 2.5-4 cups of vegetables a day and 1.5-2.5 cups of fruit a day for an adult, depending on your age and sex.5 Consuming more fruits and vegetables can support your health. You can choose which fruits and vegetables you want to consume given your own needs, preferences, and budget. Organic or conventionally grown produce – whether its fresh, frozen, or canned -- are all safe and nutritious options. It is important to rinse all fruit and vegetables under running water before using, including items you need to peel.
Whole soy foods (like tofu, edamame, and soy milk) can be included in moderate amounts, which means one to two servings/day. Not only is soy safe in moderate amounts, but research shows that soy contains isoflavones, a phytonutrient with anti-cancer properties. Up to three servings of whole soy foods per day may not increase a breast cancer survivor’s risk of recurrence or death. Whole soy foods are recommended over isolated soy protein or isoflavone supplements because whole soy foods provide a wider variety of nutrients and other bioactive compounds, many of which have anti-cancer effects.6