How to stay nourished during cancer treatment

October 11, 2017 | by Doreen Berard, RD, LDN

It’s always important to eat healthy, but it is especially important while you are fighting cancer.

Since cancer and cancer treatments can affect your taste, smell, appetite and the ability to eat enough food or absorb nutrients from food, your body can easily become malnourished. 

The American Cancer Society lists six potential indicators of malnutrition, including unexpected weight loss, low energy, weakness and loss of muscle mass. If you have two or more of these characteristics, you may be malnourished. Keep in mind, obesity is not an indicator of being well-nourished. Obesity can mask malnutrition in a condition called sarcopenic obesity. 

Although you may not feel like eating, getting proper nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight are important aspects throughout your treatment and in your recovery. Staying nourished can keep you strong and give you energy as you undergo treatment. It can help you fight infection and heal. Eating well can also help you cope physically and emotionally with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

When your appetite is low, try the following tips to stay nourished:

  • Eat 5 - 6 small meals a day, and snack whenever you are hungry.
  • Do not limit how much you eat. Determine which times of day you are hungry and eat at those times
  • Eat nutritious snacks that are high in calories and protein, including dried fruits, nuts and nut butters, Greek yogurts, cheeses, eggs, milkshakes, ice cream, cereal, pudding, and protein bars or granola bars.
  • Keep your favorite foods on hand for snacking.
  • Increase the calories and protein in foods by adding sauces, gravy, butter, cheese, sour cream, half and half, whipped cream, and nuts or nut butters.
  • Drink larger amounts of calorie containing fluids between meals, rather than with meals, so you won’t feel full too quickly.
  • Add spices and condiments to make the foods more appealing.
  • If you have changes in taste, such as a metallic taste in your mouth, try sucking on hard candy such as mints or lemon drops before eating a meal.

You can also try to exercise lightly before meals to stimulate your appetite. Exercise can help you maintain your energy and muscle mass as well.  

If you continue to have trouble eating, talk to your physician. Your registered dietitian can help with meal planning. 

How do you maintain a balanced diet? Tell us in the below comments.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:
Eating healthy during cancer treatment
Eat this or that: eating well and fighting cancer


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