According to the National Cancer Institute, the goal of nutrition in cancer treatment is “to address current cancer- and treatment-related issues, minimize treatment-related side effects, and anticipate and manage acute, delayed, and late-occurring side effects of cancer and/or cancer treatment.”
This is important, as it must be recognized that nutrition will support you through cancer treatment, however there is no diet or food which will cure your cancer. Patients with cancer often have higher nutritional needs than regular patients, and the side effects of their cancer or treatment often means that they are able to eat far less than healthy people.Side effects such as sore mouth, altered tastes, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are enough to make anyone lose weight. Patients who are malnourished have less energy than those who aren’t, and have more difficulty tolerating treatment. If this is the case, it is important to make sure you are getting as much nourishment as possible from every mouthful that you do take.
Here are some tips to help:
- Avoid diet products: Make sure you are choosing full fat and fully sugar products. This goes against usual healthy eating advice, however cancer patients who are losing weight need to maximize calories wherever possible. Malnutrition is a bigger risk factor for poor outcomes than an excess of fat or sugar is so dig in!
- Fortify meals: Add in extra calories anywhere you see fit. Add cream to porridge, stir delicious butter into soups, add nut butters to shakes,
- Eat little and often: Instead of aiming for three big meals per day, try having 6 smaller meals per day. You may find it helpful to set times to have each meal, as this makes it a routine you can get used to. Oftentimes during cancer treatment patients will suffer from a lack of appetite, meaning they must be conscious to try eat even if they are not feeling hungry. One mouthful is better than nothing, so try different foods and see what appeals. Try our small plates menu for ideas.
- Prioritize foods high in protein and calories: It may go against everything you know, but for cancer patients, filling up on high fiber fruits and vegetables may mean you don’t get the calories and protein your body needs. It is important that patients still eat fruits and vegetables to get their micronutrients, however try eating them with a high calorie topping to provide the maximum nutrition. For example, why not try cheesy cauliflower mash instead of plain, which will give you protein, calcium and extra calories compared to plain cauliflower.
- Try adding nutritious powders to your meals to provide more nutrition without adding bulk. Nutritional yeast, skimmed milk powder and commercial protein powders can all be added to give your meals that little bit extra. Be careful with protein powders as they are not FDA regulated – ask your medical team for advice on the safest to consume. Why not try making up a jug of fortified milk to use in drinks, soups and sauces. Simply add one cup of dried skimmed milk to one quart of whole milk, and use this milk whenever you would use regular milk. Discard after 24 hours.
- If you are struggling, ask your team about taking an oral nutritional supplement, such as Boost, Ensure or others. These provide calories and micronutrients, however for best effect they should be taken in addition to meals, not as a substitute.
It is important to note that some weight loss may be inevitable. For example, a person receiving end of life care will naturally lose their appetite, and in this case food should be offered as a option, but never forced upon anyone.
Struggling? Don’t suffer in silence! Speak to your medical team about receiving an assessment from a registered dietitian, who will be able to give you a personalized plan to support you during treatment.