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How Nutrition Fuels Your Fight Against Cancer

Cancer treatment may leave you feeling nauseous, constipated, exhausted or in pain. So the idea of sitting down for a nutritious meal may be the last thing on your mind.

Yet that is exactly what you need. Everyone’s care plan is different, but chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments are often critical in your battle against cancer. But so is your body’s own defense system, which requires a steady supply of vitamins, minerals and protein to keep it running.

Among the biggest challenges facing cancer patients are the various side effects that dampen appetites. There is no guarantee that your treatment will get in the way of a healthy diet, as patients often react differently to various treatments. But if you do experience trouble, there are steps you can take to overcome it.

Importance of Good Nutrition

During your cancer journey, you’ll have a range of potential therapies, medications and possibly surgeries. It’s easy to feel like so much is out of your control and in the hands of your doctors.

Focusing on your nutrition is one way to regain some sense of ownership over your health. It’s one of the areas – along with physical activity, stress management and sleep patterns – where you can make a difference.

Working with a dietitian can get you focused on the types of foods that will support your muscles and immune system and prevent cancer recurrence down the line. It’s not that you are going to cure your cancer simply by eating the right diet. But you will support your body and help avoid other problems, including missed treatments, unplanned hospitalizations and the severity of side effects.

Ideally, your diet will be built around high-quality proteins, plants and hydration. Among the suggestions:

  • Lean white meat (poultry and seafood)
  • Lentils and beans
  • Seeds (including hemp, chia and pumpkin)
  • Low fat milk, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Fruits (including applesauce, peaches and other soft fruits)
  • Vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli and other colorful veggies)
  • Water (also consider milk and coconut water)
  • Sports drinks if you need to replenish electrolytes

You should avoid refined white flour breads and pasta, along with processed meats like bacon, sausage and deli cold cuts.

Nutritional Challenges

Cancer treatments affect everyone differently. And most chemotherapy regimens incorporate some sort of anti-nausea medication to reduce side effects. Your medications can often be tweaked if you start experiencing uncomfortable side effects. Just tell your care team what’s happening so that they can help.

Even with anti-nausea medications, nutrition can be a challenge. Many patients are fatigued, aren’t hungry or don’t feel the joy that comes with satisfying a craving. And even if they do get hungry, they may experience early satiety – feeling full after half a meal or even just a couple of bites.

Coping with Nausea, Other Side Effects

If you aren’t having a good relationship with food, there are a couple strategies to try out.

Start by switching to smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of three meals a day, try five or six. Keep them on a schedule, much like you do your medication. These meals should have at least one type of protein and a fruit/vegetable. It’s not enough to pop open a cup of jello and call it a meal.

If hot foods and their smells are making you nauseous, try cool or room-temperature foods. Also avoid other strong scents from candles, perfumes and lotions.

Give some thought to the thermostat in your home. Being too hot or too cold won’t stimulate your appetite. The same thought holds true for your clothing – avoid garments that make you feel uncomfortable.

And finally, you may consider combining two important elements (hydration and nutrition) together. Your options include protein shakes and nutritional supplements added to the liquids you drink during the day.

If you are having difficulty on the nutritional front, talk to your care team. They can help you come up with a plan to give your body the help it needs.

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