How You Eat to Heal During Cancer Treatment

When diagnosed with cancer, food may be the last thing on your mind. However, food will play an important role throughout your treatment, healing, and recovery. You’ll need to keep up your strength, which is extra challenging without the right nutrition.

There is no magic bullet with food and cancer. Instead, focus on getting a proper balance of nutrients. Eating healthy throughout your treatment can lessen side effects and increase your chance for a full recovery. We will be discussing simple strategies you need to know regarding eating during cancer treatment.

Think of Nutrients as Fuel for Your Body

Good nutrition helps your body in so many ways. It makes you more equipped to withstand the side effects of cancer treatment. You’ll have more energy. It aids in recovery, healing, and survival. Proper nutrition can also help prevent malnutrition, reduce treatment breaks, avoid unplanned hospitalizations, and halt disease progression.

Focus on Eating a Well-Rounded Meal

Don’t get stuck down a rabbit hole searching for a miracle “cure-all”. The buzzword “super-foods” is widely used. Unfortunately, there is no single food or food group that can protect against or cure cancer. There are no quick-fix shortcuts. The key is to find a healthy, consistent balance that works for you.

Many studies show that a variety of fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and seafood (when consumed in adequate proportions) can be very helpful to the body. We recommend foods high in phytochemicals and antioxidants. Examples include apples, blueberries, broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, carrots, cherries, cranberries, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, flaxseed, garlic, and squash.

Every type of food group is important during and after your treatment. 

Servings to aim for each day:

  • Three to five servings of non-starchy vegetables
  • Two to three servings of fruit
  • Six servings of whole grains
  • Two to three servings of plant and animal-based proteins
  • Plenty of healthy fats (i.e., olives/olive oil, avocados, fish, and walnuts)

Hydration is especially important during cancer treatment. Drink water, milk, and fruit juices made with 100% juice. Try to drink at least 48-80 ounces of these types of hydrating fluids daily.

 Avoid or reduce alcohol and caffeinated beverages whenever possible because those are dehydrating beverages.

Eat Frequent Meals and Snacks

It is important that you regularly replenish yourself with nutrients throughout the day. Instead of eating large meals, try more frequent, smaller meals and snacks.

A good meal plan includes:

  • Breakfast
  • Mid-morning snack
  • Lunch
  • Mid-afternoon snack
  • Dinner
  • Evening snack

We understand that this may be an intimidating number of times to eat while you’re undergoing treatment. However, smaller, more frequent meals are easier for your body to process. Patients often experience loss of appetite, so regularly refueling your body can help keep your metabolism going and nutrients digest better.

Be Flexible

It is common for food tolerances to change during treatment. Don’t stock up on one particular food or food group. Decrease or avoid foods that aren’t helpful to your body. Keep in mind that previous dietary restrictions may need to be modified during your cancer treatment.

Visit with your doctor or nutritionist if you have any questions or need help revising your diet plan to fit your needs.  For more information, call one of our dieticians at (225) 215-1216.

Remember to also allow yourself to indulge.  You may eat “unhealthy” foods, in balance.

Develop a Support Team

Having a strong support network is crucial to conquering cancer. Your doctor and patient navigator will be key service and support members of your treatment team.

A registered dietician is another excellent resource. Dieticians provide advice on how to prepare for treatment and manage possible side effects. They also recommend specific eating patterns, provide recipes, suggest credible online resources, and make referrals to additional services that may benefit you during treatment.

You may also find support with from personal network. Enlist family and friends to keep you on track with eating, hydration, and meal preparation.

It takes a team to beat cancer. We partner with our patients by offering a variety of supportive patient resources.

How Cancer Patient Navigators Guide Families from Diagnosis Through Recovery

Learn more about what a patient navigator can do for you

Your Plan Will Be Unique

Plans are tailored to each person’s individual needs. Evaluate and assess nutrition needs based on the number and types of treatment available. Personal metrics include height, weight, activity level, eating habits, symptoms, and other factors.  Certain types of cancer, treatment-related symptoms, and medications may cause weight gain or loss. That requires adjustments in calories, protein, nutrients, and fluid levels.

Remember, You Are Not Alone

Feeling overwhelmed at times is normal. Be easy on yourself and take your cancer treatment one day at a time. There are many things to consider throughout your cancer journey. Your nutrition plan is only one of them.

Good news: You don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself. We have expert dieticians available who are happy to help you create a customized cancer nutrition plan.

Talk to a Dietician Today.