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Sharp Health News

Eating right during cancer treatment

Oct. 22, 2021

Fruits and vegetables

Good nutrition is important during cancer treatment. Eating a well-balanced and healthy diet can help us stay strong and keep us feeling our best.

According to Jessi Janes, a clinical dietitian at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, “You should include a variety of colorful vegetables, fiber-rich legumes, fresh fruits and whole grains. These foods give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs as well as fiber to support a healthy gut.”

“Avoid red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed refined grain foods when possible,” Janes explains. “Limit alcohol consumption, and if your cancer treatment is making you feel sick, avoid alcohol altogether.”

During cancer treatment
Some cancer treatments can cause a loss in appetite. If this happens, be gentle with yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. You may struggle to follow a normal healthy diet and that’s OK because it is only temporary. Janes shares these tips for patients who are struggling with poor appetite:

  • Stay hydrated with diluted juices, flat ginger ale, ice pops, broths and electrolyte-recovery drinks.
  • Eat five to six smaller meals a day instead of three large meals.
  • Eat high-calorie and high-protein foods first while you still have an appetite.
  • Switch it up. Chemotherapy can change the way food tastes; you may not like the taste of your favorite foods anymore, but you may acquire a taste for new foods.
  • Find what works for you. Some people do well with salty snacks such as crackers and pretzels, while others do best with fresh fruit and smoothies.
  • Talk to a dietitian for more ideas on how to manage symptoms of cancer treatment with changes in your diet.

Food safety
Certain cancer treatment can lower your immune system’s ability to fight off infection so it’s important to use good food safety practices, such as those recommended by the FDA and CDC. This includes cooking meats to recommended temperatures and thoroughly washing all fresh fruit and vegetables before eating them.

Dietary supplements
Eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits each day to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals from your diet. In some cases, however, you may be unable to eat enough to meet those needs. In this situation, taking a general multivitamin can help. Avoid any high-dose vitamin supplements, especially antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium) as these can potentially interfere with your treatment. Always let your care providers know if you are taking any herbal supplements, so they can make sure they are safe to take during treatment.

After cancer treatment
After treatment, good nutrition is incredibly important and will allow you to feel better as quickly as possible. A well-balanced and nutritious diet, along with plenty of exercise, can help you maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your immune system.

“After a cancer diagnosis, there are so many things that are out of your control,” says Janes. “You can regain some of that control by giving your body the fuel it needs to stay strong.”

Learn more and register for an upcoming free nutrition class for Sharp patients with breast cancer. Family members, caregivers and friends are also invited to attend.

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