The Oncology Patient and Nutrition

Eating Smart - A Guide To Good Nutrition

Making sure that you get adequate nutrition during any prolonged illness can improve your chances of recovery and help you fight off infections. The four food groups provide you with vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals that are essential to maintaining nutrition. They are:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Cereals & Grains

This guide offers recommendations on how to improve food intake when it is necessary to build and repair body tissues, prevent weight loss, promote weight gain, and recover from prolonged illness.  

Improving Your Food Intake

Proper nutrition is essential for all cancer patients to help fight fatigue, minimize weight loss and gain, and improve treatment outcomes.  It is estimated that 40-80% of cancer patients develop some degree of malnutrition during their illness.  Malnutrition can lead to weight loss, increased complications during treatment, and delayed healing.  As you go through treatments your nutritional needs change, and it is crucial for you to keep up with those changes. 

There is currently so much information out there on food and nutrition.  But what do you believe?  Who can you trust? A registered dietitian is an expert in food and nutrition, and is available to assist you in making individualized nutrition-related decisions.  The dietitian can assess your nutritional risks and needs and help reduce treatment side effects such as: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, sore mouth, difficulty swallowing, and loss of appetite.

Nutrition is just as important after treatments as it was during treatment.  Nutrition plays a key role in helping to prevent cancer reoccurrence.  In fact it is estimated that only 10% of cancers are due to genetics.  The remaining 90% are due to lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity.  Dietary choices and physical activity are second only to tobacco use in determining cancer risk.

Eating right before, during and after treatment is essential to helping you feel better and stay stronger!  To set up a consultation with a dietitian call 1-800-446-6088 or 563-421-1953.

Recipes before and after treatment.

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Include high-calorie snacks.
  • Concentrate on nutrient-dense foods and drinks -avoid consuming large amounts of low or no-calorie foods.
  • Prepare meals ahead of time which can be divided into individual servings and frozen until ready for use.
  • Keep easy-to-prepare foods on hand, such as frozen dinners, canned foods, and eggs.
  • Eat by the clock, having a small meal every one to two hours.
  • Enjoy your favorite foods in pleasant surroundings with friends or family.

Boosting Calories and Protein

  • Use whole milk, cream, half & half, or a high-calorie, non-dairy creamer in cooking and on cereals.
  • Add generous amounts of butter, margarine, cream cheese, and mayonnaise to bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and other foods.
  • Add sauce or gravy to meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, potatoes, rice, noodles, and other foods.
  • Use honey on toast and cereal, and in coffee or tea.
  • Add nonfat dry milk to foods such as mashed potatoes, cream soups, cream sauces, gravies, puddings, custards, milkshakes, scrambled eggs, meat loaf, casseroles, hot cereals, and whole milk.
  • Add raisins, dates, dried fruit, chopped nuts, granola and brown sugar on hot or cold cereals and on ice cream or other desserts.

Eating with Mouth Pain or Sores

  • Eat foods at room temperature instead of very hot or very cold.
  • Choose foods and beverages that are mild and non-irritating, such as apple juice.
  • Avoid highly-acidic juices such as orange.
  • Limit your use of spices and salt.
  • Dunk your toast, crackers and cookies in a liquid, such as milk or soup, to make them softer.
  • Try eating soft foods, such as pudding, eggs, soft cheeses, noodles, etc.

Eating Food When You Have Trouble Swallowing

  • Try single-texture foods such as mashed potatoes or oatmeal instead of mixed textures such as stews.
  • Avoid sticky foods (such as peanut butter) that can be hard to swallow.
  • Try drinking with a straw.

What To Eat When Food Tastes Dull or Suddenly Different

  • Try a variety of flavors and textures to make foods more enjoyable.
  • Pick foods that smell good to you so that you will want to eat them.
  • Eat acidic foods to help thin out your saliva and make it easier for you to chew.
  • Marinate foods or add chopped onions, garlic, bacon bits, cheese and so on to add more flavor.

What To Eat If You Have Diarrhea

  • Drink plenty of liquids, including water, diluted fruit juices, and flavored drink mixes.
  • Stay away from caffeinated beverages because of their diuretic effect.
  • Eat salty foods to promote water retention.
  • Stay away from foods that contain lactose, such as milk.
  • Eat bananas and mangos and drink diluted orange and nectar juice to replace lost minerals.
  • Eat low fiber foods such as white rice, white bread, and skinless, cooked fruits and vegetables. If the diarrhea persists, be sure to contact your doctor.

What To Do If You've Lost Your Appetite

  • Eat foods only with faint odors and serve them only at cool temperatures.
  • Drink an instant breakfast shake between meals to boost calories.
  • If you don't feel like eating meat, try tofu, beans, nuts, fish, peanut butter or eggs.
  • Try adding grated cheese to sauces, vegetables, and casseroles to increase the protein level.

What To Do If You're Nauseous and Vomiting

  • Drink clear, cool beverages, soups, and try eating gelatin.
  • Try Popsicles and ice cubes made from clear fruit juices.
  • Have small, frequent meals, eating very slowly and taking tiny bites.
  • Choose low-fat, mild-flavored foods.
  • Far salted foods such as pretzels or crackers.
  • Eat meals at least one hour before taking medication that is known to cause nausea.
  • If the smell of cooking food bothers you, have somebody else do the cooking for you.

For a free copy of the book, "Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment" contact the Genesis Cancer Care Institute 563-421-1907 or toll free 1-800-446-6088.

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