Diet and Nutrition for Cancer Patients
Good nutrition is always important, but it’s even more essential when facing cancer. A good diet can help patients feel better and stay strong during treatment. But that very treatment can make it hard to maintain the best nutrition for cancer patients.
We’ll share some tips on how to address dietary issues during curative treatment and how to address nutrition concerns at end of life.
Nutrition for Cancer Patients
Proper nutrition for cancer patients is essential before, during, and after cancer treatment. Unfortunately, treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or surgery can cause cancer patients to lose their appetite. Keeping a consistent weight is important to help heal and maintain energy.
High-protein and high-calorie foods may sound like the opposite of typical dietary recommendations, but they’re perfect for increasing energy and battling weight loss. Recommended foods include:
- High-fat dairy products like milk, cream, and cheese
- Butter, margarine, and oil
- Sauces and gravies
Cancer and Taste Changes
One common cancer side effect is taste changes. Keeping a food diary can help cancer patients navigate what tastes best to keep eating more of these things. If a patient is experiencing taste changes, they should keep an open mind to new foods. Things they used to hate might now taste delicious. These taste changes can also vary over time, so they should go back and try foods that are affected from time to time to see if they have become enjoyable again.
If food odors are affecting taste, try eating room temperature and cold foods. Limit food smells with lids, fans, and open windows. Some ideas for these meals include:
- Cold salads like tuna, egg, or pasta salad
- Yogurt or pudding
When Food Tastes Like Metal
When food tastes like metal, replace meat with other protein sources like fish, poultry, or beans. Cancer patients experiencing a metallic taste to food can also try quiches, hummus, or peanut butter.
If the patient does prefer meat, marinade and sauces can help improve the flavor and increase nutrition for cancer patients. Fresh or frozen vegetables are preferable over those in cans.
The right utensils can also help. Use plastic utensils and glass cookware instead of metal.
When Food Lacks Flavor
If food is lacking in flavor, try adding different spices, sauces, and marinades to increase the taste of the food.
Ideas to try include:
- Barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard
- Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, vinegar
- Spices and herbs
- Onion, garlic, peppers
- Bacon or ham strips
- Cheese and nuts
When Food Tastes Too Sweet
When things taste too sweet, focus on more savory foods and snacks. Cancer patients can also add salt or lemon to help counteract the sweetness. Some other ideas include:
- Chips or pretzels with dip
- Cheese and crackers
- Deviled eggs
- Peanut butter or other nuts
When Food Tastes Too Bitter
If food is tasting bitter, try food with mild flavors. Some things to try include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Plain noodles
- Vanilla pudding
- Plain crackers
Nutrition at End of Life
Despite all the best advancements in modern medicine, there may come a time when cancer treatment is no longer working. One of the biggest concerns families face is when their loved one stops eating and drinking as the end approaches.
As hard as it is for families to accept, this is part of the body’s natural process as the patient approaches end of life. As the body begins to shut down, it begins to conserve energy and no longer needs extra nutrition. Forcing a patient to eat or drink when they no longer need to do so can complicate things by causing the patient to choke or aspirate instead of experiencing a peaceful death.
Read more about why it’s okay to stop eating and drinking at end of life.
At Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, we provide support to cancer patients at all stages of their illness from treating side effects from radiation or chemotherapy with palliative care to providing end-of-life symptom management for hospice patients. Please call 1-888-564-3405 to learn more about hospice eligibility for cancer patients.
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