Cancer and Nutrition: Before, During and After Treatment

Good nutrition is important for everyone, but is especially essential for people with cancer. Eating the right foods both during and after treatment can help patients feel better and stay stronger so they can continue to fight the disease.

People with all types of cancer, including breast cancer, mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer and other types, must pay special attention to their nutrition because the disease and its treatments can have a negative effect on one’s appetite. Some types of cancer and treatments can even affect the body’s ability to absorb and tolerate certain nutrients and foods.

The American Cancer Society recommends preparing for treatment by stocking the freezer and pantry with foods, cooking in advance and freezing meal-sized portions and asking friends and family to help with cooking and shopping post-treatment. Developing a plan before treatment begins can ensure that patients get the nutrition they need, even if they experience side effects that make shopping or cooking difficult.

During treatment, patients should focus on their diet to increase strength, prevent the break down of body tissue and strengthen the immune system. Some cancer treatments even work more effectively in patients who get enough protein and calories and are well-nourished.

Throughout treatment, patients should choose plant-based foods often, including dark green vegetables and citrus fruits. Colorful vegetables and fruits such as these are loaded with phytochemicals, substances that promote health and well being.

Patients should also limit high-fat foods and the intake of salt. Whenever possible, patients should choose low-fat dairy products and reduce fat by baking or broiling instead of frying.

Eating small snacks throughout the day can help patients get the nutrition they need and maintain their weight. Healthy snacks include low-fat yogurt, fruit, granola, vegetables, light cheeses and whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.

Patients who need to increase their intake of protein and calories can do so by eating every few hours, consuming high-protein foods like cottage cheese, yogurt or eggs, drinking high-protein beverages and snacking on nutrition bars. More calories can be obtained by eating jam with toast, adding sour cream to potatoes and vegetables or adding butter to rice, vegetables or pasta.

Following treatment, patients should limit their intake of red meat, avoid salty foods, limit alcohol, choose low-fat dairy products and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets. By continuing to focus on nutrition, patients in remission can enjoy a higher quality of life and increased energy levels.

Article submitted by Jillian McKee, Complementary Medicine Advocate

Jillian has worked as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009. She spends most her time on outreach efforts and spreading information about the integration of complementary and alternative medicine when used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment.

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