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Nutrition and Cancer



Nutrition is important in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. That's why we have a clinical dietitian specializing in diet and cancer.  For more information, please call 859-260-4499.

Eating Tips for Cancer Prevention

The American Cancer Society advises everyone to help lower cancer risk by following these guidelines:

  • Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources (grains, vegetables and fruit)
  • Limit intake of high fat foods/meats
  • Be physically active and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Limit intake of alcohol

Eating Tips for Patients with Cancer

Central Baptist Hospital's Cancer Care Center staff recommends that patients with cancer eat differently than they did before they were diagnosed. Cancer patients need to shift their focus away from healthy eating for prevention to increasing their intake of high calorie foods - especially foods that also provide protein, vitamins and minerals.

Taking in extra calories is important, because cancer cells use carbohydrate, protein and fat differently than normal cells, resulting in increased nutrient and calorie needs. Cancer cells can also send false chemical signals that cause loss of appetite. Finally, cancer treatment can alter the ability to ingest, digest and absorb food, as well as the ability to eliminate waste. For all these reasons, nutrition assessment is a key part of cancer care. Cancer patients should be evaluated to identify their individual nutrition needs.

Here are some tips for helping with some of the common eating problems cancer patients face:

Poor Appetite

  • Practice good mouth care.
  • Rest before meals.
  • Eat in a comfortable position in a relaxed, quiet place.
  • Don't drink a lot of fluid before and during meals.
  • Eat small meals 5-6 times a day.
  • Make the meal you can eat the best (often breakfast) your biggest meal.
  • Avoid bad odors.
  • Try to pick foods you like that have a lot of nutrition, like high protein shakes.
  • Increase movement/activity as much as you can.

Weight Loss (to increase calories)

  • Be sure to have snacks/supplements handy.
  • Use liquid supplements or shakes for the fluid you need to take medicine.
  • Try a variety of supplements, such as instant breakfast, to find those you like. IF TOLERATED ADD:
    • A tablespoon or two of milk powder.
    • Pasteurized egg substitute to shakes.
    • Carbohydrate powder.
  • Just one teaspoon of butter or margarine will add 45 calories to any food. Mix it into soups, vegetables, mashed potatoes, cooked cereals, rice batter for quick breads.
  • Add honey or extra sugar (white or brown) to cereal.
  • Use extra whipped cream, marshmallows, dry fruit or chopped nuts on top of desserts and in baked goods and puddings.
  • Try peanut butter as a spread on slices of apple, celery, pears, banana and other fruits.
  • Use sour cream, yogurt or blenderized cottage cheese on vegetables such as potatoes, beans, carrots, squash or as a dip for fruits and vegetables.

"Feeling Full" (early satiety)

  • Take beverages at least 30 minutes before and at the end of meals.
  • Eat small meals and try to eat foods with the most nutrition (meats and dairy products) first. Don't fill up on gelatin and sherbet.
  • Remember that breakfast may be your best meal. Include eggs, dairy products when possible or try eating some dinner items in the morning.
  • Eat light foods that have sugar and starches for snacks. Good choices include graham crackers, cakes and cookies.

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Rest before meals.
  • Don't brush your teeth right before meals.
  • Don't chew gum before meals.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Eat in a cool, quiet place with low light and good air circulation.
  • Sit upright to eat.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Separate your intake of liquid and solid foods.
  • Don't eat hot and cold foods together.
  • Avoid high fat and very high sugar foods.
  • Avoid dry, tough foods.
  • Include some protein foods, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low fat milk or other dairy products, in meals as possible.
  • Include lightly salted foods in meals.
  • Avoid foods with strong odors or lots of spices.
  • Don't try to eat your favorite foods when you feel very sick.
  • Remain upright or on your right side after eating.

Sore Mouth/Throat (stomatitis/esophagitis)

  • Clean teeth before cancer treatments.
  • Take ice chips before chemotherapy.
  • Avoid breathing through your mouth.
  • Keep your mouth clean with salt solution.
  • Do not use commercial mouthwash.
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Ice may be soothing.
  • Avoid very hot and very cold foods.
  • Avoid very tart, very spicy and very salty foods.
  • You may need to try a liquid diet or liquid supplements.
  • You may prefer to take liquids with a straw.

Dry Mouth (xerostomia)

  • Have a water bottle handy all the time.
  • Sip liquids during meals.
  • Try to take at least 2-1/2 to 3 quarts of fluid a day.
  • Try food with a "tart" (lemon-like) taste.
  • Avoid very spicy foods.
  • Eat foods warm, not hot.
  • Avoid dry foods. Soften your food with broth, gravy, sauces, salad dressing, mayonnaise, milk or yogurt.
  • You may wish to try pureed foods.
  • You may want to eat more food at breakfast and lunch because your mouth may be more dry at night.
  • Use sugar-free gum and candy drops.
  • Rinse your mouth at least every 2 hours while you are awake. Keep your mouth very clean.
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Use a room humidifier to avoid dry air in your home.
  • Ask about a solution to break up thick saliva.
  • Use "artificial saliva" suggested.
  • Don't use lemon glycerin swabs. These cause dryness.
  • Don't use commercial mouthwash.
  • It may help to apply light pressure to the front of your neck just at the top of your chest.
  • It may help to rub the back of your neck.

Taste Changes

"No Flavor"

  • Food with one strong taste and foods with fruit flavors may taste best.
  • Use cold, cool and warm, not hot, foods.
  • You may need extra sweetener.

"Too Bitter"

  • Bland, cold foods may be the best.
  • Avoid coffee and chocolate.
  • Use marinated meats and use meat alternatives.
  • Serve meats chilled.

"Too Sweet"

  • Mix sweet beverages with extra water.
  • Add sour juice or coffee to sweet foods and beverages.

"Metal Taste"

  • Try using plastic utensils and dinnerware.

"Bad Taste"

  • "Clear" your taste buds several times during meals with liquid or "plain tasting" foods such as plain rice, potato bread or pasta.
  • Try eating mints during IV treatments.
  • Have someone else remove covers of meal trays, cooking pots, etc., away from you.
  • Clean your mouth before and after meals.

Constipation and Diarrhea

The general treatment for both constipation and diarrhea is extra fluid and fiber in the diet. The reasons for constipation and diarrhea among cancer patients can be very different. You must check with your doctor to be sure of the right steps to take (the kind of fiber to use, etc.) for your situation.