Good nutrition is important to good health, but if you are fighting cancer you may not realize your nutritional needs are different from the needs of the general population.
Recommendations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle focus on eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, a moderate amount of lean meat and low-fat dairy products, and cutting back on fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt.
For cancer patients, the emphasis is on maintaining one’s weight, said Veronica Johnson, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Medical Center in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.
“Research shows weight loss during cancer treatment can predict early mortality,” Johnson said. “Many cancer patients tend to eat the same amount of food they did before their diagnoses and still lose weight. Weight loss can lead to malnutrition, which in turn can prevent the body from fighting infection, and complicate their health outcomes.”
Eating the right kinds of foods before, during and after cancer treatment can help the patient feel better and stay stronger, and can help aid in their recovery and quality of life.
A healthy diet includes eating and drinking enough of the foods and liquids that have the important nutrients the body needs, Johnson said. That can vary depending on the type of cancer you have, the stage of your cancer, type and frequency of treatments, any side effects you experience and your tolerance for food.
All cancer treatments can influence nutritional needs, Johnson said, including altering a patient’s regular eating habits and adversely affecting how the body digests, absorbs and uses food. For instance, a patient may seem to be eating enough, but the body may not be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food, or the treatment may affect how the food tastes and smells, which can negatively affect a patient’s appetite.
Side effects from cancer and its treatment can also cause difficultly in satisfying a patient’s nutritional needs.