What to Eat During Cancer Treatment

Posted on: April 11, 2016

Michelle Frankland, OCN

Michelle Frankland, OCN

Most people know the parameters for ‘healthy eating’ … but rules change when cancer treatment gets involved. We wanted to offer a little insight to you on the ways that your body changes during cancer treatment and what foods you can be eating to help maintain a healthy weight and energy.

Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery have different side effects on each individual. An example of one of these side effects is diarrhea, while some individuals experience this in varying severity, others have none. When a doctor begins to talk to you about cancer treatment, they will go over all of the known possible side effects with you. It is important to ask questions of your physician and to take notes.

Adding a registered dietician to your care team can be valuable and helpful. They will consult with you about your nutritional needs before, during and after chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Many nutritionists will help you create a meal plan, grocery shopping lists and a personalized recipe binder.

One of the most important nutrients you can get is protein, because it helps your body to grow and repair tissues. Without adequate protein your body will start to break down muscles for the energy it needs to function properly. This will result in fatigue, higher risk of infection and a longer recovery time. Foods that are high in protein are; fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils and soy foods.

Fats are also important in your diet as they help to produce energy. As much as possible, you should stick to eating polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are found in vegetable oils, avocado and seafood.

Keeping your protein and fat intake up is essential and an easy way to do that is with smoothies. You can make smoothies to your taste and add protein powder, or try a receipt like this one from the American Cancer Society.

Tangy protein smoothie: A thick, protein-packed drink

⅓ cup cottage cheese or plain yogurt

½ cup vanilla ice cream

¼ cup prepared fruit-flavored gelatin (can use individual ready-to-eat snack pack)

¼ cup low-fat milk

(275 calories and 13 grams of protein)

Carbohydrates are another source of energy essential to our bodies function. These are found in whole grain cereals and breads, wheat germ, quinoa, barley, fruits and vegetable.

Don’t forget to stay hydrated! This is one thing that doesn’t change in or out of cancer treatment; water is essential to the body functioning properly. It is helpful to drink fluids with calories like low sodium broths, freshly squeezed fruit juice, coconut water, decaffeinated coffee and tea.

You should consult with your physician and pharmacists about any vitamins or minerals you are taking, as even basic over the counter products or supplements could interfere with your cancer treatment.

Having a healthy diet may be hard to maintain during cancer treatment, but with a support system of family and friends helping you stay well nourished, it is easier. When someone asks “Is there anything I can do to help you?” invite them to bring you ready to eat meals that you can store for easy eating. Many individuals going through cancer treatment feel better snacking throughout the day, rather than eating large meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Have snacks with you wherever you go to help ensure you can eat when you feel the need. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers or yogurt are all examples of terrific snacks.

To learn more about nutrition during cancer treatment, tips for quelling side effects and more recipes, visit the American Cancer Society.