Cancer treatments have helped millions of cancer patients thanks to their ability to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, in the process, they tend to cause damage to normal healthy cells and even deplete white blood cells that help to fight infection. This causes a variety of side effects, including nausea, loss of appetite, mouth sores, taste changes, and so on. These side effects make it difficult to eat or drink well.
Good nutrition is important for cancer patients as it ensures they get essential nutrients, maintain strength, keep body tissues healthy, maintain a healthy weight, and boost energy levels. This text features some food tips and advice for coping with the following cancer treatments side effects:
Cancer patients may experience nausea and vomiting a few hours after treatment. Others even connect certain sounds, smells or sights with treatment and feel nauseated –this is more common in those receiving chemotherapy. Feeling sick and vomiting can make it difficult to eat well. There are plenty of nausea-friendly foods that you can take, like those low in fibre, not very spicy, and soft like bagels, oatmeal, lean and tender meats like poultry, soups, hard-boiled eggs, rice and mashed potatoes. Avoiding foods with strong smells, fatty, spicy, oily, fried, and overly sweet can also help with nausea and fatigue.
Other food tips to help with this side effect include:
- Avoid eating in places with strong odours
- Have a bland diet.
- Rinse or brush your mouth before and after eating to reduce unpleasant tastes
- Eat slowly and chew well to help with digestion
- Avoid activities immediately after meals
- Take anti-nausea medicines as prescribed
Loss of Appetite
Cancer patients may lose their appetite due to cancer itself or the treatments. Even so, it’s important to keep trying to eat so the body gets the nourishment it needs to stay strong in the battle against cancer.
Here’s how to manage the loss of appetite:
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Make foods visually appealing with colours and garnishes like lemon slices, parsley, and tomato cherries.
- Make mealtime enjoyable –set the table, light some candles, play music, and if possible, eat with friends.
- Choose nutrient-rich foods with high calories such as nuts, avocados, puddings, blended soups, beans, etc.
- Include a variety of foods on your plate to improve your overall intake.
- Moderate physical activity like taking a walk around the block can also help stimulate appetite.
Taste Sense Change
Chemotherapy can change the taste receptors in your mouth. Radiotherapy or surgery to the mouth, head or neck may also damage salivary glands and taste buds. This causes certain foods and drinks to taste metallic, bitter, or just unpleasant.
Here’s how to solve mouth and taste issues when food or drinks seem tasteless:
- Add more spices and flavourings such as fresh herbs, ginger, soy sauce, pepper, sauces, etc.
- Experiment with different foods. Most patients prefer savoury over sweet foods.
- Try flavoured water or add sliced lemon to plain water.
- If meat becomes difficult to enjoy, try other sources of proteins like beans, fish, and eggs.
- Maintain good oral hygiene to remove unpleasant tastes
- If you lose all your sense of taste, focus on other appealing aspects of food like meal presentation and the colours.
Some types of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause mouth sores and/or dry mouth. Dry mouth can increase the risk of dental problems like tooth decay and oral thrush, all of which makes it harder to eat. Surgery to the mouth or throat can also make it difficult and painful to chew and swallow. In that case, stick with soft foods that require less chewing like soups, milkshakes, smoothies, mashed potatoes, cream of wheat, and so on.
- Avoid anything scratchy, spicy, acidic, too salty, or rough.
- Eat meals lukewarmly.
- Use a straw for drinks and soups to prevent them from touching your sores
- Change the consistency of food by pureeing, chopping, or mincing to make them easier to swallow.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep the mouth moist.
The drugs used in chemotherapy can cause patients to feel tired and fatigued, which makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. Other side effects can also hinder you from getting a good night’s sleep. And, the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can cause insomnia as well. A way of helping to manage sleeping problems through nutrition is to have sleep-promoting foods and drinks a few hours before bed. This includes almonds, warm milk, fatty fish, fruits that contain melatonin like kiwi and bananas, complex carbs, tart cherry juice, and chamomile tea.