It is essential that patients practice healthy eating habits during cancer treatments. Malnutrition and weight loss affect the body’s ability to regain sufficient blood counts between chemotherapy cycles. Staying well hydrated and maintaining muscle mass with the right amount of fluids, nutrients and calories helps boost the immune system, reduces treatment delays and minimizes debilitating side effects like fatigue. Knowing the right foods to eat ahead of time reduces stress.
Fluids are an indispensable part of overall health. If the body becomes dehydrated, metabolism slows down and affects the ability to eliminate toxins. Chemotherapy patients should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day, which can include water, seltzer and 100 percent fruit juice as well as smoothies, soup and herbal teas. Enjoy decaffeinated coffee and tea but avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages due their potential negative effects.
Fruits and Vegetables
According to the American Cancer Society, patients should eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit as well as 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day during chemotherapy. Fruit and vegetables supply antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals. While applesauce, bananas and pears help stop diarrhea, cantaloupe, watermelon and peaches are helpful for those experiencing dry or sore mouths and throats. Prepare a fruit and vegetable smoothie for easier digestion.
Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins and minerals needed to support a healthy immune system and lessen side effects of chemotherapy like diarrhea and constipation. The recommended diet includes 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Examples include brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and bread, barley and quinoa. Look for products whose label says 100 percent whole grain while avoiding white flour and sugar.
Protein is required for the body to repair cells damaged by chemotherapy. Look for lean sources of protein, such as beans, eggs and nuts as well as poultry and low-fat dairy products. Chemotherapy lowers the immune system. Ensure that meals are cooked thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
Sources of Fat
Patients unable to retain a healthy weight should increase their fat intake. In addition to olive oil, eat nuts and seeds like walnuts and sunflower seeds, which are rich sources of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Patients should reduce their intake of unhealthy saturated and trans fats that adversely affect the heart and circulatory system. Look for food like ground flaxseed, avocados and fish, such as flounder, salmon and sardines. Avoid processed meat, margarine and products containing partially hydrogenated oils.
Cancer patients should speak with their doctor and dietitian to determine the best meal plan for their individual circumstances. Patients who have difficulty eating larger meals should have these food items nearby, so they can snack throughout the day.