Nutrition During Cancer Treatment and During Recovery

Why is healthy eating well so important?

Healthy eating throughout all stages of treatment and recovery is essential in maintaining health. It can assist to maintain muscle strength, maintain a healthy weight, and improve energy levels to therefore improve quality of life and well-being.

Good nutrition can also help to;

  • manages the side effects treatment and speed up recovery
  • wound healing and repair of damaged tissue
  • improve the body’s immune system  and ability to fight  infection
  • reduce re-occurrence of the cancer

Key nutritional needs will differ through each phase of treatment, post treatment and recovery.

During treatment:

  • You may require additional nutrients whilst undertaking the treatment such as energy and protein for your body to be able to repair and replenish cells.
  • Eating small, frequent meals or snacks rich in protein and energy may assist you to meet these requirements. Some high protein snack suggestions include; tinned salmon/tuna, eggs, baked beans, nuts and dairy based foods (yoghurt and cheese). Nourishing fluids such as juice and milk based drinks can further assist you to meet requirements.
  • Improve appetite by doing some light physical activity (to be guided by your specialist) which will additionally help to improve regular bowel habits, improve mood, and assist digestion

Some treatment side effects can, in turn, affect what you can eat and how much. These include:

  • fatigue
  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • changes in taste and smell
  • chewing and swallowing problems
  • dry mouth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • other types of bowel irritation
  • heartburn

Strategies to assist low appetite/unintended weight loss

  • Using a smaller plate when eating may be more appealing than trying to consume a large plate of food.
  • Eating small amounts regularly every 2-3 hours
  • Small sips of nourishing fluids during the day (cordial, juice, milk based drinks)
  • Eat what you feel like when you feel like. For example– if you only want to eats cereal for a main meal at dinner that’s fine!
  • Relax any dietary restrictions and focus on maintaining weight or regaining weight that was lost is more important than avoiding full fat dairy foods or high energy foods.
  • Improve the eating environment by eating in a relaxed environment, with minimal distractions. Eating outside in the fresh air may assist in improving appetite.

After treatment

  • It is important to try to maintain your body weight to speed up recovery. Aim for weight stability.
  • Start to return to regular dietary pattern by eating a variety of foods from all core food groups and do some physical activity to rebuild muscles and recover from treatment side effects.
  • If your still experiencing side effects from the treatments such as reduced appetite follow the above suggestions; Eating small, frequent meals or snacks rich in protein and energy combined with nourishing fluids such as juice and milk based drinks can further assist you to meet requirements.

After recovery

  • Focus on returning to healthy eating patterns and meeting recommended serve sizes from all food groups (meat/alternatives, grains and cereals, dairy, fruit and vegetables) as per the Australian Guidelines of Healthy Eating (AGHE).
  • Reduce the amount of processed foods and sugary drinks in your diet, instead choosing a diet rich in vegetables (aim for 5 serves/day) and fruit (aim for 2 serves/day). Choosing a variety of vegetables/fruit will provide you with a broader range of vitamins and minerals which are rich in antioxidants.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active to help prevent cancer from returning
  • See your GP for regular check ups
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