Good nutrition can help you to handle any treatment for cancer better and speed your recovery. You may notice weight changes during your treatment. Some people may lose weight, while others gain.
If you are losing weight, eat more often, drink more fluids with calories, add fats and sugars to food if tolerated and even give into cravings for unusual foods or drink if they help increase food intake.
If you are gaining weight, choose foods that contain less fat and sugar. During treatment, try to maintain the weight you had before treatment if possible. If you need to lose weight, postpone a planned weight loss effort until after your treatment is over.
To eat enough calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, follow these general guidelines:
Drink at least three cups of milk per day. Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy foods may be substituted.
Eat two or more three-ounce servings of meat or meat substitutes daily.
Consume at least two cups of fruit or juice daily.
Eat 2½ cups of vegetables daily. Choose more bright or deep colored ones like sweet potatoes, greens and tomatoes. Eat vegetables after eating the higher protein and calorie foods. Vegetables are nutritious, but their fiber may fill you up if they are eaten before other foods.
Eat six or more servings of bread and cereals. Try to have at least half of those servings come from whole grains like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, bran cereals, whole wheat pasta and brown rice unless you are having diarrhea.
Consume other foods such as desserts and beverages as desired.
Include nutritious snacks such as fruit, nuts, cheese and crackers between meals and before bedtime.
On the day of your treatment, you may want to eat lightly. Good options suggested by the American Cancer Society are juice-type nutritional supplements that contain protein, dry crackers and toast, rice, pretzels, apple, cranberry or grape juice, decaffeinated tea or coffee, ginger ale, sports drinks, popsicles, fruit ices, sherbet or sorbet and flavored gelatin.
Feelings of fullness, nausea, vomiting
When feelings of fullness, nausea and vomiting are a problem, try to get food through the stomach as quickly as possible. Eating sweet or starchy food more often in small amounts may help. Fatty and fried food will make the problem worse because they take longer to digest.
There will be more room for food if you drink liquids one hour before or after eating.
Eating dry foods such as toast or crackers, particularly before getting up in the morning, seems to relieve nausea. Cold, clear liquids such as Kool-Aid or soft drinks can help. You may eat more if you eat slowly and chew food well.
Rest after a meal because activity slows digestion, but recline with your head up for at least one hour.
Just the smell of food can cause nausea. Stay out of the kitchen while meals are being fixed and open windows to air the eating area.
Also, cold or room temperature foods smell less. If nausea becomes too severe, a doctor can prescribe medicine to help control it
Dry/sore mouth and sore throat
If the mouth is dry, liquid or moist foods that are cool or lukewarm are easier to swallow. If you are not nauseated, soft margarine, gravy or broth can moisten foods. Sauces or syrups may help, too. Many people dunk food in a drink or take a swallow of liquid with each bite of food. Take small bites and chew well.
When the mouth or throat is sore, soft, cold food such as ice cream, popsicles, watermelon, or grapes may be easier to eat.
Tilting the head back or using a straw can make swallowing more comfortable. High acid foods such as citrus juices and tomatoes may cause pain, while sweet fruit drinks and nectars may be pleasant to drink. Alcohol can also irritate.
Frequent rinsing with water or salt water may prevent infection and improve healing. If pain is severe, a doctor can prescribe medicine to numb the mouth and throat.
For more information please refer to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutrition publication at www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/fdns/FDNS-E-155a.pdf You can also find excellent information at the American Cancer Society website.
Debbie Wilburn is a county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.