Adequate nutrition is essential for the body to maintain its immune system, strength, and vitality. This is even more important for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy require proper nutrition to fight cancer.
National Cancer Institute General Guidelines
- Avoid obesity by losing excess weight.
- Consume alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all.
- Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in the daily diet.
- Increase fiber to 20-30 grams/day with an upper limit of 35 grams.
- Minimize consumption of salt-cured, salt-pickled, and smoked foods.
- Reduce fat intake to 30 percent of calories or less.
Goals of Nutritional Management
There are two main goals for a cancer diet. The first is the achievement and maintenance of reasonable weight. The second is the prevention or correction of nutritional imbalances and deficiencies.
Adequate calories to meet energy requirements, sufficient protein to permit tissue growth, fats, minerals, vitamins, and fluids all must be supplied in appropriate amounts to meet the patient's requirements. Careful attention to nutrition is important because malnutrition induced by cancer and its treatment adversely affects the patient and complicates further treatment of the disease.
Appetite loss in cancer is apparently a varied symptom, with diverse causes. Attention must be paid to the individual causes. The following steps are recommended:
- Determine symptoms that might be related to appetite loss
- Probe for specific food likes and dislikes
- Patients should be given nutritional and dietary counseling
Practical Guidelines for Eating
- Atmosphere Does Make a Difference. An attractively set table with flowers or other such items can take your mind off a slumping appetite. Good odors also help such as baking bread and cakes. A glass of wine or beer with your doctor's approval prior to meals is helpful in generating an appetite.
- Avoid Foods That Don't Interest You.
- Discuss Your Eating Problems With Your Doctor. Before you try home remedies, be sure your problems are not symptoms needing medical attention, or unwanted side effects associated with the chemotherapeutic agent. Do not hesitate to ask your physician questions and to tell the doctor what seems to be bothering you.
- Give Food A Chance. Remember that what sounds unappealing today may sound good tomorrow.
- Make Use of Time Savers. Take advantage of time saving and effort saving foods and appliances. These include foods that can be prepared as a meal in a dish with little preparation and cooking. Frozen dinners, when served with a fruit, milk, and canned foods, such as soups, spaghetti sauce, or gravies, can be mixed easily with fresh cooked meat for a good dinner.
- Stay Away From Raw Eggs and Raw Meats. This is particularly important if your chemotherapy makes you more susceptible to infection (most do).
- Take Advantage of the Up Times. When you feel well, take advantage of it by eating well and by preparing meals that you can freeze for the down days. On the good days, eat when you feel hungry, even if it isn't mealtime. It is important to eat foods with good nutritional value; many nutrients can be stored in your body for later use.
Benefits of Proper Nutrition During Chemotherapy
- Improves tolerance of therapy. A well-nourished body is stronger and more resilient than a poorly nourished one. Studies have shown that nutrition can decrease the severity and duration of chemotherapy side effects such as vomiting, nausea, weakness, lowered immunity, and susceptibility to infection. There may be other specific side effects, but in general, people who eat well while on chemotherapy tend to feel better and stay more physically active and alert mentally.
- Increases the effectiveness of therapy. When patients feed themselves they also feed their cancer cells. Studies have shown that "well fed" cancer cells multiply more readily and are more susceptible to anticancer drugs than are slow growing undernourished cells. A good nutritional status may allow patients to withstand higher doses of drugs and increase the effectiveness of the therapy.
- Regulates your weight. Many patients lose weight on chemotherapy, but some gain weight. Underweight and overweight are both undesirable for the chemotherapy patient. Both of these conditions can lead to weakness, lethargy, depression, embarrassment, and a lack of self-esteem.
- Speeds recovery from treatment. Nutrients are the building blocks the body uses to rebuild the normal tissues that have been affected by the chemotherapy. If the proper nutrients in the adequate amounts are available, this recovery process takes place much more quickly and efficiently than when deficiencies are present.
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