9 Nutrition Tips for Cancer Patients

Eating well can be a challenging during cancer treatment. Here's help making dietary choices to help you feel strong and healthy during this time.

Health Monitor Staff

If you're undergoing or recovering from cancer therapy, you may be faced with gastrointestinal symptoms that lead to a loss of appetite and weight, including bloating, diarrhea, nausea and constipation. Luckily, you can do things to alleviate these symptoms and get back to feeling your best.

We consulted Director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center, Linda Lee, MD, for tips on how to help with some of those symptoms. Browse our slideshow to get on the path to relief.

Watch the dairy
Although you may have been a life-long milk drinker, you can become temporarily lactose intolerant as a result of cancer treatments.

Chemo and radiation sometimes prevent the small intestine from producing enough of the enzyme lactase, causing bloating, gassiness, cramping or diarrhea when you eat foods with lactose.

Beware of bubbles
Although some people believe the bubbles in soda make them burp and feel better, the effect is only temporary—and the bubbles and caffeine can eventually aggravate gassiness, bloating and heartburn.

Grab some ginger
Recent studies suggest that encapsulated ginger can help reduce the nausea associated with some types of chemotherapy. You can try a 200 mg supplement three times per day, or even better, try adding ⅛ tsp of fresh grated ginger to hot tea.

Rethink the bacon cheeseburger
Rich or fried foods are high in fat and calories—but they also slow stomach emptying, which can cause bloating or nausea.

If you're running short on calories, try eating small but frequent meals that include plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Break down your veggies
Fiber-packed raw vegetables can be challenging for your stomach to break down, but that doesn't mean you should skip them—they do contain lots of good vitamins and minerals.

Instead, try blending them into a "green" smoothie (carrots and even spinach taste great!) or adding them to soup. Puréed and cooked vegetables are easier for your body to digest.

Be choosy with fruit
Your small intestine can only absorb so much fructose a day, and some fruits have more of it than others, such as melons, papaya, mango, apples and pear. You don't have to avoid these fruits completely to prevent discomfort, just don't eat too many of them on the same day.

Fruits with a lower amount of fructose include berries, peaches, plums, ripe bananas and citrus.

Drink lots of water
Dehydration worsens symptoms of nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Don't be afraid to drink water even if you're having diarrhea—it doesn't make it worse, but instead helps replenish what your intestine is losing.

Remember that your taste buds may have changed
When friends and family offer to cook for you, by all means, accept! By saying yes, you allow them into your life and to feel connected to you.

But don't feel bad if you can't eat what they've made. If you've gone through chemotherapy, your taste buds may have temporarily changed, and foods you once loved may not be appealing anymore. Consulting a dietitian or nutritionist can give you new recipe ideas, and ensure you're meeting your daily calorie and nutrient needs.

Be smart about supplements
It's best to get your nutrients from food if you can, although in most cases taking a multivitamin or vitamin D is fine—just let your doctors know you're taking them. Be careful about using other supplements during your therapy as some my thin your blood or interfere with the efficacy of your treatment.

September 2011