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Good Nutrition Before, During and After Cancer Treatment

Scot Ackerman , M.D.

March 23, 2018

Eating a healthful diet and staying active is important to overall health throughout your life, but diet takes on an even greater significance during and after cancer treatment.

A diet filled with a wide variety of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and dietary pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas) fuels the body and, along with regular exercise, may even reduce the risk of cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, sitting less and exercising more, avoiding high-calorie foods and sugary drinks, limiting red and processed meat consumption, avoiding or limiting alcoholic drinks and reducing salt intake are steps that can lower the chances of getting cancer.

For those undergoing cancer treatment, diet takes on an even more important role. Consuming a clean diet made up of lean proteins, vegetables, fruit and wholegrains with little to no processed foods helps keep weight at a healthy level and provides the energy needed to get through treatment and perform everyday activities.

But eating well during cancer treatment isn’t always easy. Some patients experience treatment side effects such as loss of taste or appetite, fatigue, and digestion problems, which can threaten nutritional status. No single solution is the answer, but small changes can sometimes make a big difference, such as:

  • Eating larger meals when your appetite is the best
  • Consuming small nourishing meals and high-protein snacks often
  • Keeping easy-to-prepare foods on hand for days you’re feeling fatigued
  • Letting friends and family help with meal preparation and shopping
  • Avoiding greasy, spicy or strong-smelling foods when you feel nauseous
  • Settling your stomach with dry crackers, toast or ginger-flavored drinks
  • Rinsing your mouth with a baking powder and water solution throughout the day
  • Sucking on pineapple chunks before meals to improve taste
  • Using extra seasonings to flavor foods
  • For sore mouths, sipping fluids, keeping your mouth clean, avoiding rough or spicy foods and chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production

Since chemotherapy can lower white blood cell count and increase risk of infection, it is important to practice good food hygiene. Always wash your hands before eating or handling food and make sure to wash all fruits and vegetables. Cook food thoroughly. Check expiration dates and don’t use food that is out-of-date. And be sure to forego unpasteurized dairy products.

I always caution against following extreme ‘cancer diets,’ which can be restrictive and harmful. There is no scientific evidence that shows you can starve a tumor or cure cancer with special diets or juice cleanses.

Patients at Ackerman Cancer Center who are at risk of poor nutritional status or who have questions about their diet before, during and after cancer treatment have access to our Oncology Wellness Specialist, Karen Alexander. An expert in oncology nutrition, she works with our patients to improve nutritional status and authors weekly Wellness Bulletins. Karen is available for patient consultation and dietary assistance throughout all phases of cancer treatment.

If you have questions about diet before, during or after cancer treatment call us at 904-880-5522.

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