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It is important to maintain proper nutrition before, during and after cancer treatment. Cancer treatment may involve radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological immunotherapy and surgery. These procedures and the medications involved can cause patients to lose their appetite and energy, putting them at an increased risk for malnutrition.

(Read more: Homeopathic Treatment, Medicines, Remedies for Cancer)

  1. Nutritional requirements of cancer patients
  2. Diet to prevent infection
  3. Diet solutions for problems faced during cancer treatment
  4. Diet plan for cancer patients
  5. Takeaways
Doctors for Diet for Cancer Patients

Following are a few things to keep in mind regarding your diet during cancer treatment:

Watch your energy requirements: Those with a normal nutritional status experience an increase of 110-130% of their usual energy/ calorie requirement during cancer treatment. However, if the patient is malnourished, 130-150% of normal energy/ calorie requirement is needed. To know your daily energy requirement, you should consult a dietitian.

(Read more: High-calorie foods)

Protein-rich diet: Our body needs protein for growth, to repair body tissue and to keep our immune systems healthy. When your body doesn’t get enough protein, it might break down muscle for the fuel it needs to function. This makes the body take longer to recover from illness and can lower resistance to infection. People with cancer often need more protein than usual. After surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and help fight infection. 

If the cancer patient has a normal nutritional status, the protein requirement is 1-1.25 g/kg of body weight (current weight) and if the patient is malnourished, they need 1.5–2 g/kg. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, nut butter, dried beans, peas, lentils and soybean foods.

(Read more: Protein Powder)

Vitamins and minerals: Needs for specific vitamins and minerals are highly variable, depending on the type of therapy used and the presence and severity of complications; for example, vomiting and malabsorption. All individuals should be carefully monitored for early signs of nutritional deficiencies.

(Read more: Malabsorption syndrome)

Although it is generally prudent to recommend a multivitamin or mineral supplement in most cancer patients, one should guard against excessive supplementation, which could prove harmful.

Antioxidant-rich diet: Antioxidants try to keep free radicals from attacking normal cells. You can increase their intake by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of antioxidants. Taking large doses of antioxidant supplements or vitamin-enhanced foods or liquids is usually not recommended while getting chemo or radiation therapy and so you should try to include them in your diet. To add a good amount of antioxidants in your diet you can have carrot, pumpkin, papaya, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, fatty fish, cod liver oil, nuts and seeds.

A neutropenic diet is good for people with weakened immune systems. People with cancer may have a weakened immune system due to the disease. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a stem cell transplant can also cause a weakened immune system. The basic principles of this diet involve practising proper food safety and avoiding foods that are more likely to expose you to microbes and bacteria. Here are a few techniques to avoid infection through this diet:

  • Proper handwashing is the first important step in food safety. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Thoroughly rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under warm running water. Scrub or brush produce to remove excess dirt. Even melon, oranges and other thick-skinned fruits that are peeled before eating should be washed to avoid introducing bacteria into the fruit when cutting it.
  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and other produce and avoid wooden cutting boards.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked meat, fish, shellfish and eggs. Even raw fruits, vegetables and sprouts should not be had.
  • Avoid salad bars, buffets and potlucks.
  • Avoid unpasteurized products, such as unpasteurized dairy products (like milk, cheese, and paneer) as well as unpasteurized honey and juice.
  • Avoid fresh and packaged foods that are past their ‘use by’ or expiration dates.
  • Avoid leftover foods. It is important to follow proper food storage and reheating guidelines if you plan to prepare food ahead of time or save leftovers.

There are a few health-related problems which are very common during the treatment of cancer. As per your symptoms, you can use the following diet-related solutions:

Decreased appetite

How to manage:

  • Have 5-6 smaller and more frequent meals instead of three main meals in a day.
  • Try to make your meals look and taste more appetizing.
  • Avoid low-energy foods and try to have nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

(Read more: Loss of appetite)

Nausea and vomiting

How to manage:

  • Food is best tolerated at cool or room temperature.
  • Eat dry, salty crackers, biscuits and cookies.
  • Simple foods such as rice, scrambled eggs, toast, noodles, bananas, mashed potatoes, custard and clear, cold non-acidic liquids would be easier to consume.
  • Have light and low-fat foods.
  • Ensure you’re intaking enough liquids during the day.
  • Allow plenty of fresh air in the house to disperse cooking odours.
  • Avoid milk products, cream soups, fatty/fried foods and sweet desserts.
  • Don’t lie down immediately after eating.

Sore mouth or throat

How to manage: 

  • Eat soft, moist food at cool or room temperature like mashed potatoes, apple stew, mashed rice.
  • Drink through a straw.
  • Avoid spicy, salty or acidic foods, carbonated beverages, juice (especially citrus) and extremely hot or cold foods if you have a sore throat or mouth.

Dry mouth

How to manage:

  • Eat foods with high moisture content (like foods served with gravies or sauces, casseroles, chicken, fish) if you have a dry mouth.
  • Have liquids at mealtime with the food.
  • Drink extra fluids between meals.
  • Chewing of sugarless gum or sucking of mints may help.
  • Avoid thick liquids, excessively hot meals, dry foods and bread products.

Mouth blindness

How to manage:

  • Have strongly flavoured food.
  • Add spices in your food.
  • Put an emphasis on aroma and texture while cooking.
  • Avoid bland food, plain meat and unsalted food.

Early satiety

How to manage:

  • Have a high-calorie diet with calorically-dense foods, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, whole milk, cheese, cream soups, ice cream, whole-milk yoghurt, creamed vegetables and rich desserts.
  • Plan to have small and frequent meals.
  • Use calorically dense food supplements, after consulting with your doctor.
  • Avoid low-fat or non-fat milk products, salads, steamed or plain vegetables and low-calorie beverages such as lemon water.

Diarrhea

How to manage:

  • Eat smaller and more frequent meals if you have diarrhea.
  • Fluid replacement is very important to prevent dehydration.
  • Try and drink water or rehydration drinks after every loose motion.
  • Moderate the intake of fibre, while concentrating on intake of soluble fibre like fruit, oats, and legumes. (Read more: Fiber rich foods)
  • Limit the intake of fructose (fruit sugar) by avoiding juice, honey, dates, nuts, figs and soft drinks.
  • Eat bananas, potatoes, fish and meat and drink apricot and tomato juice to replenish sodium (salt) and potassium. (Read more: Salt deficiency)
  • Eat foods that have been brought to room temperature first.
  • Avoid gas-forming foods and drinks (e.g. peas, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, nuts, cucumber, beans, bran, garlic, beer), caffeine, etc.

(Read more: Home remedies for loose motions)

Constipation

How to manage:

  • Have a regular diet with added fibre by including whole grains, dried fruit such as prunes (even prune juice), bran, etc.
  • Discus taking a fiber-enriched supplement such as psyllium husk with your doctor.
  • Bulking agents may prove to be beneficial.
  • Extra fluids and exercise can help with constipation.
  • Avoid gas-forming foods and beverages such as legumes, green pea, cabbage, etc.

(Read more: How to get rid of constipation)

Swallowing problems

How to manage:

  • Eat small and frequent meals if you’re experiencing difficulty swallowing.
  • Use nutritional supplements and have a pureed diet.
  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day and thicken the fluid to the consistency that is easiest to swallow.

Following is a sample diet plan that can help you design a routine for yourself:

  • Early morning: Milk (1 cup) + almonds (8-10) + walnuts (4-6)
  • Breakfast: Moong dal dosa (1-2) + sambhar (1-2 bowl)
  • Mid meal: Apple stew (1 large sized)
  • Lunch: Rice (1-2 bowl) + kadhi (1-2 bowl) + bottle gourd curry (1-2 bowl)
  • Evening tea: Hot chocolate (1 cup) + roasted makhanas (1 bowl) / boiled egg (2)
  • Dinner: Vegetable soup (1 big bowl) + mixed veg paratha (2) + paneer curry (6-7 pieces) / fish curry (1-2 piece)
  • Bedtime: Turmeric milk (1 glass)

Although nutrition cannot cure cancer, it does very often play a supportive and essential role in cancer therapy. Weight loss and nutritional depletion of the person with cancer may interfere with cancer treatment; your diet can help prevent or reverse poor nutritional status and its associated complications.

Those individuals who lose weight may have a reduced tolerance to treatment (including poor recovery after surgery) owing to poor wound healing and increased susceptibility to infection. Weight loss may also contribute to a poor quality of life. A person with cancer and good nutritional status, when compared to a similarly afflicted malnourished person, feels stronger, eats better, is more active, resists infection better and overall enjoys a better quality of life. Early nutritional intervention, soon after a diagnosis has been made, can address dietary problems and prove to be extremely beneficial in the long term.

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Nutritionist
8 Years of Experience

Surbhi Singh

Surbhi Singh

Nutritionist
22 Years of Experience

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Nutritionist
20 Years of Experience

Dr. priyamwada

Dr. priyamwada

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

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