During cancer treatment, you should expect a lot of changes — changes in your sleep cycle, physical appearance and exercise capacity, along with the new challenge of managing side effects. However, there is something important you can focus on to help navigate these changes: the power of food.
Angelea Bruce, a registered dietitian at the Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute at Sharp Memorial Hospital, offers support and tools to create a diet that not only provides energy to help fight cancer, but also helps manage side effects and may even prevent cancer in the future.
While going through treatment, consider these five diet tips to help you feel better and stay stronger.
Skip your favorite foods on treatment day.
"Your tastes for and tolerance to food may change during treatment," says Bruce. "Avoid eating your favorite foods on the day of chemotherapy."
She suggests eating a light breakfast before your appointment and bringing healthy snacks to eat during the treatment, such as fresh or canned fruit, string cheese, trail mix, peanut butter and crackers, hard-boiled eggs, soup kept warm in an insulated container, a half sandwich or yogurt.
Practice good oral care.
"In addition to taste changes, mouth sores can be a common side effect of cancer treatment," says Bruce.
She suggests brushing your teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush after every meal and flossing twice a day, if possible. If toothpaste is too harsh, you may use a paste made with baking soda and water, or talk to your dentist about other options.
"It can also be helpful to rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution made with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 8 ounces warm water," says Bruce. "If the pain of mouth sores is making eating difficult, be sure to let your team know so they can advise you regarding other options."
Aim to drink 64 ounces of liquids per day, or what is directed by your doctor or other caregivers.
If you do not like to drink plain water, Bruce suggests:
• Adding lemon or lime wedges, slices of cucumbers or fresh mint leaves
• Sipping on ginger or herbal tea, warm broth or flat soda
• Eating ice pops or gelatin
Take extra steps to avoid food poisoning.
Because your immune system is likely to be weakened during cancer treatment, it is important to take commonsense steps to avoid food poisoning.
Bruce suggests following the FDA's guidelines for Food Safety for People With Cancer that offer the best ways to be vigilant when handling, preparing and consuming foods.
Keep your body strong.
Finally, diet and nutrition during cancer treatment can help keep your body strong and healthy. Whenever possible, eat a well-balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products or plant-based alternatives.
"Family and friends may try to give well-intentioned advice regarding special diets or supplements; however, at this time there is no diet or dietary supplement that has been found effective at treating or curing cancer," reminds Bruce. "Always discuss the use of any supplements or special diet with your doctor or dietitian."