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Eating well: Don’t neglect nutrition during cancer therapy

When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it’s more important than ever to eat properly. Good nutrition helps you stay strong and cope better with the side effects of treatment. Eating right also will boost your body’s natural ability to fight disease.

People who maintain nutritionally sound diets while receiving chemotherapy and radiation are often able to tolerate high doses of cancer-fighting medication. The right foods in the right quantities also can ease nausea, vomiting and other unpleasant symptoms that may arise during treatment.

A personal plan

While you may be accustomed to following general nutritional guidelines, remember that you may now have different requirements depending on the type of cancer you have, the type of treatment you receive and how you feel during therapy.

Ask your doctor or a registered dietitian to recommend a diet that will be beneficial for you. You’ll probably need to increase your caloric intake and consume more high-protein foods, such as meats and dairy products. On the other hand, cut back on high-fiber vegetables, fruits, cereals and whole grains if your treatment causes diarrhea.

In some cases, your doctor will advise you to take specific vitamins or nutritional supplements. You may even be placed on a restricted diet. For example, if your cancer treatment makes it difficult for you to digest dairy products, it’s best to avoid foods containing lactose.

Many restricted diets are well balanced and can be followed indefinitely; others should be limited to just a few days because they don’t provide enough nutrients for long-term use.

Soothing, satisfying meals

To find out which food combinations work best for you, pay attention to your body. Eat when you’re hungry and keep trying new things. The following suggestions can help you plan meals that are both satisfying and soothing.

Try a soft touch. If your mouth, gums and throat are sore from cancer treatments, chewing and swallowing may be difficult. Try soft-cooked eggs, yogurt and other soft foods. Your doctor or dentist can also prescribe medications to minimize the pain.

Satisfy your senses. Your sense of taste or smell could change during your illness or treatment. Choose and prepare foods you like to smell and eat. Experiment with flavorful seasonings such as basil, rosemary and oregano.

Settle your stomach. If nausea and vomiting are a problem, try dry toast and crackers and avoid fatty and fried spicy foods with strong odors. Drink fewer liquids with meals. You may also find relief with relaxation exercises or meditation. If the symptoms persist, talk with your doctor about taking antiemetics to control queasiness.

Mind your minerals. To counteract diarrhea, eat small amounts of low-fiber foods that replenish sodium and potassium. Good choices include bouillon, bananas and boiled potatoes. Contact your doctor if the diarrhea is severe or lasts several days.

Exercise your options. Stay active to aid digestion. If constipation is a problem, increase your fluid intake and eat fiber-rich foods such as whole-grain breads and fresh fruits and vegetables. Check with your doctor before taking any laxatives.

Get to the root of “weight gain.” Certain anticancer drugs such as prednisone may appear to cause weight gain. But if the numbers on the scale rise, it’s likely due to fluid retention. So don’t diet. Instead, limit your salt intake, which causes your body to retain water. Diuretics, or water pills, are often prescribed to eliminate extra body fluid.

Whet your appetite. Make meals more appealing to increase your desire for food. Even fussy eaters will work up an appetite for a candlelight dinner accompanied by soft music and good conversation.