Cancer patients should eat a variety of foods and especially make sure they get enough protein, which is found in foods such as meat and seafood.
Cancer and side effects from treatment can impact your appetite, eating habits, activity levels, and weight.
Here are some helpful tips to manage your weight during and after cancer treatment from Memorial Sloan Kettering registered dietitian-nutritionists Christina Stella and Suzanne Gerdes.
1. Don’t restrict yourself to certain foods (unless your doctor recommends it).
Many newly diagnosed patients decide to become vegetarian, eat only organic foods, or eliminate all sugar from their diet in hopes of off-setting years of unhealthy eating habits.
That can be a struggle because side effects of treatment like nausea may influence what you will want or be able to eat. Restricting certain foods or nutrients may not change the course of your cancer.
2. On some days, it’s enough to just eat.
If you’re currently in treatment, aim for equal portions of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, and lean protein. Increasing protein intake is important to avoid losing lean muscle mass when dropping weight.
For those having difficulty maintaining their weight, however, any calorie is more important than limiting food choices. Just eat.
3. Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated helps your body deal with the effects of treatment. If you’re trying to stem weight loss, it’s also an opportunity to add calories in a taste-friendly way.
Water and drinks with calories, like 100 percent fruit juice infused with water, keep you hydrated.
4. Keep as active as possible.
Whether you want to gain or lose weight, regular movement is important because it helps maintain lean muscle mass and prevent fatigue.
5. Put the brakes on supplement use.
Getting the nutrients the body needs from eating whole foods is the gold standard of nutrition. In fact, certain vitamins, herbal products, and other dietary supplements—which aren’t regulated by any accrediting agency—can interfere with certain cancer treatments and medications.
Tell your doctor about any vitamins or dietary supplements you’ve been taking.
6. If you’re overweight aim for slow, steady weight loss.
It’s important not to lose weight in an uncontrolled manner. Rapid weight loss usually involves the loss of lean muscle mass, which is needed to maintain strength. Research shows poorer prognoses for patients who lose lean body mass at a rapid rate.
7. Use apps to keep track.
Use mobile tracking devices and apps to keep an online food journal and track calorie intake. These tools help patients see what foods are contributing to the types of calories you consume and make changes to improve your diet.
8. After treatment, make healthy lifestyle choices.
After treatment ends, cancer survivors are generally advised to follow a mostly plant-based diet by using the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables and split the remaining half between grains and protein.
There is no meal plan that’s right for everyone. Check with your doctor to determine if weight loss, gain, or maintenance is best for you.
Learn more at www.mskcc.org.
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