Cancer treatment takes a significant toll on the body and unfortunately it has many negative side effects that often impact the way people eat. This is a problem because good nutrition is vital during treatment to assist with recovery, to maintain weight, and to help with energy levels/ mood.
The tips below may be helpful in managing food intake during some of the common side effects.
It is tough stomaching food when the mere thought of it makes you feel sick. Eating during this time will always be a challenge but some people find the following helpful:
- Try eating bland foods – nothing with too much flavour e.g. spice, sauces. Options like dry toast and crackers are often tolerated better.
- Eat food cold so they have less of an odour. Hot food will often have a stronger smell which can make someone feel even more nauseous.
- Eat small amounts, more frequently. This is an important point because the longer you go without eating, the more nauseous you will likely feel as your blood sugar levels drop.
- Keep favourite foods handy at home.
- Be sure to keep hydrated – ice blocks can be useful to suck on or ice cubes.
- Salty foods are often better tolerated as well e.g. soup.
- Have someone prepare meals for you if this is an option. Not having to look at the food or cook it will be less likely to turn you off.
Loss of appetite
A lot of these points will overlap with the advice given above.
- Eat small meal more frequently. You will get more food in across the whole day if you have small bits here and there rather than having three large meals each day and only eating a very small amount of each.
- Keep your favourite foods in stock and make the most of any time you are feeling even a little bit hungry.
- Fortify the food you do eat with ingredients that are protein and energy rich [see below].
Sore mouth / throat
This can be common when people are having head/ neck radiotherapy or if someone suffers from a lot of mouth ulcers during there treatment.
- Drink fluids through a straw and try to bypass the sore areas of the mouth
- Don’t drink/ eat anything that is too hot or too cold
- Avoid foods that are very spicy or acidic
- Eat soft foods that are moist and not too dry
- Maintain good oral hygiene
- If you are prescribed pain medication, see if your doctor is happy for you to take your medication prior to meals.
High protein and high energy
This is probably going to be one of the most useful dietary strategies you can incorporate. When you are feeling unwell, have no appetite and even the thought of food makes you feel sick, you need to make the most of everything you do consume! This means bulking everything up with extra calories and protein where possible. It make take a bit of creativity as well.
Tips to bulk up the protein / energy content of snacks and meals:
- Make use of foods that are naturally high in fat/ energy e.g. avocado, nuts/ seeds, olive oil.
- Add cheese and oils to meals where possible e.g mashed potato made with butter and cheese and cream.
- Put avocado on sandwiches or crackers.
- Use full cream dairy products only.
- Make high energy, high protein smoothies using ice cream.
A diet high in fats and oils and sugar wouldn’t normally be recommended but when someone is losing weight, is very frail and is struggling to get protein/ energy in their diet – the main focus is maintaining weight. This would not be a long term diet but rather a way to get through the tough times.
Supplements can be extremely useful when people are really struggling with their food intake. They can be an easy way to add a few hundred calories or more into the day and 18 or so grams of protein – depending on what brands you go for and how you use them. Supplements should not take the place of meals and food but she be used in conjunction with dietary intake. You can purchase ready to drink supplements, or powdered varieties that you can make up with milk e.g. Sustagen.
You don’t just have to drink the supplements but you can also add them to meals to bump up the calories/ protein e.g. adding to porridge, creamy soups, mashed potato and so on.
Speak to someone before trying complementary therapies
It is best to speak to a doctor or dietician prior to trying any complementary diets or supplements. Some can be harmless but others can be quite harmful. In any case, they certainly should never take the place of conventional treatments prescribed by your specialists.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about nutrition, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns.