The Best Meals for Chemotherapy Patients: What to Eat When Eating is Difficult
Staying Healthy While Undergoing Chemotherapy Treatment
It is important to give your body the proper nutrition it needs and to keep your weight at healthy levels while you undergo chemotherapy treatment in order to help your body and immune system stay strong. The Colorado State University Extension says “cancer patients who retain weight and maintain a good nutritional state have fewer complications from treatment.” Chemotherapy can cause appetite changes, changes in taste, oral discomfort, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal and digestive upset. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend a specific diet plan for you to follow while undergoing chemotherapy. The best meals for chemotherapy patients are not only nutritionally sound, they are easy for the patient to tolerate consuming and digest. There are a variety of food choices you can choose, depending on your symptoms.
In addition to eating healthy foods, it is essential to prepare foods hygienically to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria when your immune system is compromised. Prepare foods on clean surfaces and store uneaten foods in the refrigerator immediately.
Loss of Appetite
A loss of appetite is a common symptom in patients undergoing chemotherapy. You may find it easier to eat small meals every two hours, instead of eating three large meals a day. Eat foods that you find especially tasty. It is okay to eat a little junk food if it stimulates your appetite. Focus on eating high protein and high calorie foods to help you maintain your weight. Some examples of high calorie and high protein foods are pudding, yogurt, ice cream, cheese and crackers and peanut butter and crackers. Meal replacement drinks, such as Ensure, are a good way to meet your calorie and nutritional needs when you are having trouble consuming enough food.
Changes in Taste
Chemotherapy may affect your sense of taste and smell. You might find that foods you normally enjoy, no longer taste good. Sweet foods might not taste as sweet. Foods can taste bland. You may find that you favor acidic and tart foods. In addition, the odor of some foods may bother you. When dealing with taste and smell changes, experiment with a variety of foods to find ones that you enjoy. If desserts and fruits don’t taste sweet enough, add a spoonful of sugar to them. Liven up bland tasting foods with garlic, basil or other seasonings. Marinate meats in lemon and olive oil, pineapple juice or add a seasoned tomato sauce to them. If you find you have difficulty tolerating the flavor or smell of meat, replace it with eggs, legumes and nuts. Eat citrus fruits if you have cravings for tart or acidic foods.
If you have mouth sores or oral infections stay away from acidic foods that can cause irritation. Eat soft foods that are easy to swallow and will not cause trauma to your mouth. Mashed potatoes, milk shakes, pudding, peaches, grapes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and macaroni and cheese are good choices when you have oral irritations.
Swallowing with a dry mouth is difficult and uncomfortable. If you experience mouth dryness, drink plenty of fluids, suck on ice chips and eat moist foods. Soups, foods topped with gravy, grapes, plums, applesauce and popsicles are good choices.
Nausea and Vomiting
Eat five small meals a day when you are experiencing nausea or vomiting, because smaller meals are easier to digest. Try drinking fluids 30 minutes before meals, instead of with meals, to counteract nausea. Stay away from richly spiced and high fat foods. Eat salty, dry foods that are easy to digest such as salted crackers, pretzels and toast.
Gastrointestinal and Digestive Upset
Constipation and diarrhea are symptoms that some patients undergoing chemotherapy experience. Dietary changes can help relieve these symptoms. If constipation or diarrhea persist for more than two days after you change your diet, call your doctor.
Constipation can result from not ingesting enough fluids. Drink 8 glasses of water, juice, lemonade or herbal tea a day. Another cause of constipation is not eating enough fiber. Get enough fiber in your diet by eating plenty of unprocessed, whole grain foods such as raw fruits, raw vegetables, brown rice, legumes and wheat bread.
Diarrhea can cause dehydration and low levels of sodium and potassium in the body. Drink plenty of water, sports drinks and broth and eat bananas and canned fruit to help you replace water, sodium and potassium in your body. Stay away from fiber rich foods, high fat foods and dairy products, which may be the cause of your diarrhea. Once your diarrhea symptoms have subsided, slowly introduce fiber, fatty and dairy foods into your diet – one at a time – to find out which foods do and don’t agree with you. If you find that certain types of foods consistently cause diarrhea symptoms, a fiber restricted diet, low-fat diet or lactose free diet may be necessary, while you are undergoing chemotherapy.
This article is for education purposes only and is not meant to act as or replace medical advice. Every person is different and has various dietary requirements. Always confer with a doctor about which meals are best for chemotherapy patients.
Colorado State Extension: Cancer’s Effect on the Diet
National Cancer Institute: Eating Hints: Before During and After Cancer Treatment