April is National Nutrition Month! During the pandemic, so many of us have been working from home, eating at home, and finding ways to entertain ourselves at home. For many people, this has led to lots of snacking and lots of ordering food for take-out. We used to joke about the “freshman 15” that many students gain when they go off to college. We are now talking about the “COVID 15”. Today we are going to discuss ways for you to get back on track during this trying time and take back control of your health before, during, and after treatment.

Nutrition and Cancer:

Whether you were recently diagnosed with cancer or have been going through treatments, we know eating healthy can be extremely difficult during this time. Cancer treatments can have many different effects on your body that can affect your diet and overall nutrition. It is important to keep in mind that you must continue to feed your body nutritious foods to help you in your fight against cancer.  

Common Drinking and Eating Side Effects from Cancer Treatment

Taste and smell may change

Experiment with new marinades and flavors to find different things that may appeal to you. Tart flavors, adding sugar and other seasonings to food, choosing foods that don’t need to be cooked, and avoiding the kitchen while food is being prepared may make food more appealing.

Sore throat and swallowing difficulties

Eat foods that are soft and easy to swallow, such as smoothies, and eat several small meals throughout the day. Avoid salty, acidic foods that can irritate your throat. Do not drink alcohol and do not use tobacco products. Drink 6-8 cups of liquid a day.

Sore mouth

Avoid foods that will irritate your mouth such as salty, acidic, and rough-textured foods. Try soft or pureed foods and moisten foods so they are easier on your mouth.

Dry mouth or thickening saliva

Drink 8-10 cups of liquid a day but try to avoid caffeine and alcohol. Enjoy frozen fruit, frozen fruit pops, and chew on sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy as it will help to stimulate saliva.

Poor appetite

Eat small amounts during the day and drink things high in calories and protein. Talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking as some may cause you to have a poor appetite.

Nausea and vomiting

Take your medications with food and discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking anti-nausea medications. Eat bland, dry foods and avoid strong odors. Try to eat 6-8 small meals a day instead of several large ones. Sip on beverages that will provide you with calories.

Dehydration

Drink small amounts as often as you can and always carry a water bottle with you. Eat foods high in fluids. Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine.

Diarrhea

Eat foods high in pectin to firm up your bowel movements. Avoid greasy, fried, spicy foods as well as caffeine and alcohol. Limit milk and dairy to 2 cups a day.

Constipation/Gas

Limit carbonated drinks and foods that may cause gas. Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day.  Drink a hot beverage or eat hot foods for breakfast to stimulate your bowels. If possible, increase your physical activity. Give yourself time in the bathroom to have a bowel movement and don’t rush.

Fatigue

Nap during the day when you can and try to do some small exercise each day if you are able.  Get plenty of fluids and eat small, frequent meals or snacks. Have plenty of easy to prepare and easy to eat foods available to you.

Tips for Eating Healthy During a Pandemic

Dietary Guidelines/Personalize My Plate

We are all different and unique, we like and need different things. The same goes for your diet!  There is no “one size fits all” approach to healthy eating but there are definitely things we can all do to improve our nutrition and our overall health. Choose healthy and nutritious foods and snacks that you enjoy and that you know you will eat.  Buy things you will look forward to eating.

Meal Prep

Planning your meals in advance can help you avoid grabbing for the most convenient, unhealthy things when you are hungry. Prep for the week on Sunday, make a grocery list filled with nutritious foods you will enjoy eating. Try new fruits and vegetables to keep things different and exciting. Having meals planned and prepared will help you stay on track even when you don’t feel up to cooking.

Eating as a Family

Eat as a family without any distractions. No video games, no phones, and turning off the television.  Adults decide what to make for meals so provide your family with healthy, nutritious dinners. Everyone will learn to enjoy the structure of a set dinnertime and it’s a great time to introduce the less adventurous to new food items. Encourage others to try what you’ve made and let them know it’s ok not to like everything. Take the time to sit down and enjoy some togetherness with your family.

Tips for Ordering Takeout and Delivery:

  • Research before you order. Check out menus online to look for healthy options.
  • Don’t eat it all! Think about what your plate would look like at home and only eat that much. Portions today can be huge and you don’t have to clean your plate.
  • Don’t focus on what you can’t have. Check out all the menu items you CAN have and order wisely.
  • Don’t go out to eat when you are starving. Have a small, healthy snack before you go.
  • Wording can sound tempting! Creamy, fried, breaded, and smothered may sound good but you are better off sticking with grilled, broiled, and steamed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Skip the butter, get the dressing on the side and skip the breadbasket.

Cancer Support Services

Our Cancer Support team is here for you. We offer a host of integrative and wellness services that aim to address the physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual needs of patients and their loved ones throughout the cancer journey. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding your nutrition during your cancer journey. Our team is here to help you stay as healthy as you can, without worry, during this time.

Contact the Cancer Support Team
Resources:

https://www.eatright.org

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/

About the Author

Dr. Melanie Goldfarb

Dr. Melanie Goldfarb is a fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon and Director of the Center for Endocrine Tumors and Disorders at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Her expertise is minimally invasive surgery for thyroid cancer and disorders, hyperparathyroidism, and adrenal tumors, including pheochromocytoma, Cushings, Conns, and adrenal cancer. Dr. Goldfarb also the Medical Director for Cancer Survivorship at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Learn More About Dr. Melanie Goldfarb.

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