Dr. Veronica McLymont is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist specializing in oncology nutrition. She is currently the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, noted for its innovative approach to serving the nutritional needs of cancer patients. Dr. McLymont is the author of a chapter on “Nutrition Care of the Cancer Patient” in a Cancer Rehabilitation text book, and has co-authored several research articles. For National Nutrition Month, we spoke with Dr. McLymont about her extensive career in the field of nutrition and oncology.
What is one thing that most people should be aware of when it comes to nutrition and their cancer diagnosis?
The one nutrition-related thing that patients should be aware of when facing a cancer diagnosis as noted earlier, is that the disease itself and its treatments such as medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, can adversely disrupt their desire and/or ability to eat. Nutrition is an important part of cancer care. Without proper nutrition, patients often experience weight loss and weakened immune system which makes healing and recovery difficult.
During cancer treatment, particularly chemo, many people’s sense of taste changes. Do you have any advice for people going through this?
Changes in taste or loss of taste sensation including metallic taste are common side effects of chemotherapy. Patients should try foods that look, smell and taste good.
Try foods with strong flavors, such as those that are tart and spicy, and discontinue this if their mouth or throat becomes sore.
Flavor foods with fresh herbs and spices like:
Eat foods that are chilled or frozen like watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, orange, grapes and fruit icies.
Suck on hard candies like lemon drops, or those with mint, lemon, or orange flavors after eating.
Perk up the flavor of meat or fish by marinating and seasoning it with sweet juices, fruits, or acidic dressings. For example:
Sweet and sour pork with pineapple
Chicken with honey glaze
Fish with lemon sauce
London broil in Italian dressing
If red meats, such as beef, cause nausea, replace it with other high protein foods such as chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products or fish.
Use plastic ware (spoon, fork, knife) instead of regular silverware
Avoid eating or drinking canned foods directly from the can. Transfer food to a plate and pour drinks into a glass.
Use a fan to extract smells that certain smells cause nausea or vomiting.
Order prepared foods to avoid cooking smells.
To help prevent nausea and vomiting avoid eating 1 to 2 hours before chemotherapy and up to 3 hours after chemotherapy.
Practice good oral hygiene, by brushing, rinsing and flossing frequently.
Rinse mouth with a salt and baking soda solution before meals. It may help with neutralizing the bad tastes. Try a solution of ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.
Rinse your mouth with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or water with baking soda.
What are the main things cancer patients can do to prevent re-occurrence?
Although there is no guarantee that one can prevent re-occurrence, there are things that health experts like the American Cancer Society suggest cancer survivors can do. These include following a healthy diet, and exercise. For example:
Eating more fruits and vegetables. At a minimum eat at least 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily
Limiting red meats like beef, pork, and lamb and processed meats foods like hot dogs, sausage, luncheon meats, and cold cuts.
Eating more whole grains instead of refined grains and sugars.
Maintaining a healthy weight and remain physically active. For most adults, a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 18.5-24.9 is considered healthy.
Cancer survivors should discuss what their weight should be, as well as the best diet and exercise plan with a registered dietitian/nutritionist.
Keep moving with regular daily physical activity, which can mean walking, jogging, dancing, or other exercise based on their physical condition.
Include some strength training exercises at least 2 days per week.
Above all keep up follow-up appointments, and any treatments recommended.
Speak with their doctor or healthcare team who can advise them on other strategies to help them stay healthy.
Check out part 1 of our interview with Dr McLymont here.