Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause eating-related issues. Some people lose their appetites, others experience nausea, diarrhea or constipation.
The National Cancer Institute recommends meeting with a dietitian, but it also has published a 60-page booklet “Eating Hints: Before, during and after treatment.” They offer the following tips to plan meals before your treatments start:
• Stock up on healthy foods, including foods you know you can eat when you feel sick.
• Select foods that need little to no cooking, either ready-to-eat meals or frozen dinners.
• Ask others for help with shopping and meal preparation.
Eating During Treatments
The foods you need will vary based on the symptoms you experience. The National Cancer Institute and the University of Southern California San Francisco make the following suggestions:
• Nausea: Eat low-fat, bland and salty foods. Drink cool, clear beverages between meals Avoid your favorite foods so you don’t develop an aversion to them. Rest sitting up for at least an hour and don’t lie flat for at least two hours. Avoid odors by having someone else cook and eating in a room away from the kitchen.
• Suggested foods: oatmeal, cold cereal, soups, cold sandwiches, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, plain pasta, rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, toast, crackers, pretzels, canned fruit, applesauce, Jell-O, custard and pudding, sherbet, Popsicles, soda, juice, herbal tea, peaches or soft fruits and vegetables, skinned chicken that is baked, and teas with ginger or peppermint.
• Vomiting: Stop eating until you get the vomiting under control. Consume tiny amounts of clear liquids. Once you can tolerate liquids, move on to soft and bland foods like mashed potatoes, rice, pureed fruit, smoothies, yogurts and cereal. When you feel better, try eating high potassium and magnesium foods such as bananas, potatoes, orange juice, tomatoes and apricots.
• Constipation: Add fiber to your diet and try to include it in each meal. Increase fiber gradually so you don’t experience gas. Reduce your caffeine intake. Exercise more.
• Suggested foods: Kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruit, bran cereals, shredded wheat, prune juice and hot lemon water.
• Diarrhea: Drink lots of room-temperature liquids. Eat more potassium-rich foods. Follow the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, tea and toast. Eat frequent, small meals. Avoid foods that are greasy, fried, spicy or highly seasoned. Avoid raw vegetables, milk, ice cream or puddings.
• Suggested foods: Oatmeal, plain rice and corn cereals, canned fruits, white rice, pasta, potatoes without skins, soups without creams, cheese and crackers, graham crackers and peanut butter, eggs, soda, herbal tea and Jell-O.
• Loss of appetite: Eat by the clock, three small meals and three snacks. Choose high-calorie foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, puddings, dried fruit and vegetables dipped in hummus. Plan your daily menu in advance. Make your food look good by using colorful foods and garnishes. Make mealtimes pleasant and eat with others whenever you can.
• Taste and smell aversions: Choose foods that look and smell good. If beef smells or tastes odd, switch to chicken or turkey. Marinate foods. Incorporate oranges, limes, lemon or vinegar into your recipes. Make foods sweeter by adding sugar or sweetener. Add extra flavors such as bacon bits, onions, or herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary. Pour barbecue sauce on meat and chicken. Serve foods at room temperature. Drink through a straw. Cook outdoors or use a kitchen fan.