Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients

Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients

How You Eat Can Make All the Difference if You Have Cancer

Eating too little protein and too few calories is often a problem of people with cancer. Here’s how to sneak in healthy foods and improve your health.

Eating too little protein and too few calories is the most common nutrition problem facing many people with cancer.

Those with cancer often have trouble eating because they are upset, worried or afraid. Also, most cancer treatments are very powerful, and target healthy cells along with cancer cells. This often causes a host of side effects that affect nutrition or eating, such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Sore mouth or throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and depression
  • Dental and gum problems

Good nutrition is essential

Protein and calories are important for healing, fighting infection and providing energy. Many cancer treatments are more effective if you are well nourished. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during and after treatment can also help you feel better and stay stronger. It can even improve your chances of recovery, according to some research.

When someone is undernourished, though, the standard advice is to encourage eating any way possible. Ice cream and ice cream shakes, puddings, heavy sauces and gravies may be suggested. This will up your calories and protein, but these foods also carry a lot of sugar and saturated fat.

Instead, there are better ways to increase calories and protein while keeping good nutrition in mind.

High-protein, high-calorie alternatives

First, check with your doctor to see what type of foods you should be eating. If he or she suggests a high-protein and high-calorie diet, then follow these tips.

Generous amounts of olive and canola oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, dried fruits and concentrated nonfat dry milk powder are healthy alternatives to milkshakes and the like that also boost calories and protein.

Olives, olive oil and canola oil

  • Add extra olive or canola oil when cooking lean meats, vegetables, stir-fry or soups.
  • Use olive oil-based vinaigrette dressings on salads, vegetables and pasta.
  • Toss pasta with olive or canola oil before adding sauces.
  • Eat olives plain or add them to pizza, pasta or salads.
  • Dip bread in olive oil and vinegar.
  • Make an omelet using olive oil, lots of veggies and low-fat cheese.

Nuts, seeds and dried fruit

  • Snack on handfuls of your favorite nuts and seeds.
  • Use natural peanut butter on crackers, fruit or a sandwich.
  • Toss nuts or seeds into yogurt, cereal, oatmeal and stir-fry.
  • Use nuts in muffin and bread recipes.
  • Make trail mix with nuts, raisins (or other dried fruit) and whole-grain cereal.
  • Sprinkle nuts on ice cream.
  • Try almond, cashew or walnut butters for variety.

Avocado and beans

  • Add guacamole to your Mexican food or sandwich.
  • Add avocado slices to your sandwich or salad.
  • Top hummus on pita bread or crackers.

Nonfat dry/powdered milk, cheese

  • Add nonfat powdered milk to mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and casseroles.
  • Add low-fat cheddar cheese to vegetarian chili.
  • Make nachos with baked tortillas chips, whole beans or fat-free refried beans, low-fat cheese, olives, guacamole and salsa.
  • Blend a fruit smoothie of 1/2 banana, frozen berries, milk and 1 to 2 tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk or whey protein powder.
  • Use nonfat milk instead of water to make oatmeal or cream of wheat.
  • Add nonfat powdered milk to a glass of regular nonfat milk.

Other ideas

  • Carry snacks with you so that you are prepared to eat whenever hunger strikes.
  • Eat favorite foods at any time of the day. For example, have an omelet or oatmeal for dinner if that appeals to you.
  • Eat every few hours. Don’t wait until you feel hungry.
  • Eat your biggest meal when you feel hungriest.
  • Limit low-calorie beverages, such as diet drinks. Replace with milk, smoothies, juice or canned high-protein drink supplements.
  • Drink most of your fluids between meals instead of with meals. Drinking fluid with meals can make you feel too full.
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