Eating Right When You Have Cancer

Jillian McKee has worked as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009. Jillian 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.

Cancer is hard on the body. Radiation, surgery and chemotherapy can take a toll on your appetite and immune system. Healthy eating gives you the necessary fuel to deal with these challenges. An adequate food intake helps to rebuild body tissue, support immune system functions, and increase strength for tolerance of treatments. It will also assist in recuperation after treatments and in increasing your energy and quality of life.

Good nutrition begins with eating enough protein, carbohydrates and fats. Even before starting cancer treatment, healthy eating can help lower your risk of infection and increase your endurance. Cancer treatments cause side effects like sore or dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, changes in smell or taste, weight loss and nausea. Keep your refrigerator well stocked and have non-perishable foods within easy reach. You can drink nutritional meal supplements with extra calories and protein for times when you don’t feel like eating. Increasing fluids when you are not eating well is also important.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and your side effects are severe, you can speak with a dietitian about which foods are best and the possibility of a special diet. Concentrated calories are important to keep up your strength. Eating a lot of protein is important for healing and foods like cheese, eggs, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter and whole milk are easy on the stomach. You can add sauces if you have trouble swallowing food. Fats need to be a big part of your diet to help supply needed energy during treatment. Butter easily adds calories to bread or vegetables. If you develop an aversion to fat, still try for foods that are high in protein.

Healthy eating includes fruits and vegetables. To maximize calories you can try fruit juices and dried fruits. Calorie dense vegetables like corn, beans and peas are high in starches and a good source of energy. You may need to eat small and more frequent meals or even snack throughout the day to increase your calorie consumption. You can decrease muscle loss by adding extra eggs, diced meat or powdered milk to vegetables, casseroles or soups.

Your sense of taste may change. By eating bland, cold and low-odor foods, you avoid foods that you don’t feel like eating. Cancer can cause a lactose intolerance to develop. In this case, buy lactose-free milk and try low-lactose dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and buttermilk, which also have active cultures to assist with digestion.

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