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Nutrition Guidelines

Posted 5/25/2016

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  There is so much conversation about food! I am one of those people who thinks all the time about my next meal, what sounds good, what I would like to cook, whether there is something new in season that could be incorporated into dinner, etc. This is in direct contrast to my mother who hated to cook and liked to comment: "Isn't it too bad that there aren't vitamins we could take and just be done with it?" I never understood that perspective.

  Books have been written about cancer and nutrition. There are some books that claim magical powers of prevention and cure for certain foods (reality check: no such magic foods exist) and many books that make suggestions of diets or recipes that may help with health during and after treatment. All of them need to be read with a major grain of salt.

  We have a dietitian who works with our oncology patients here, and most hospitals have a similar staff person. She manages the online community around nutrition at, and you can read some good posts or ask her questions that way. The bottom line for people going through treatment is to eat enough protein (your body needs that to rebuild the healthy cells that have also been damaged), drink plenty of fluids, and respond to what sounds good to you. Most of us revert to our childhood comfort foods, and there is a joke that the ideal chemo meal is mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and saltines. My suggestion to people receiving chemotherapy is to avoid your favorite foods because they probably won't taste right, and you may never want them again.

  After treatment concludes, your tastes gradually return to normal. The focus then is on weight maintenance and a healthy diet in all the ways we all know. I remember being delighted when I was once again interested in reading cookbooks and Bon Appetit. This is a good article from Cancer Net about nutrition guidelines during and after treatment:

Nutrition Recommendations During and After Treatment

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2016
People with cancer need to maintain a healthy body weight and eat nutritious foods. But the side effects of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy may cause a person to eat less and lose weight. Some treatments may cause weight gain for some patients.

Nutrition guidelines during cancer treatment
Here are some general nutrition recommendations for people receiving cancer treatment:
Maintain a healthy weight. For many people, this means avoiding weight loss by getting enough calories every day. For people who are obese, this may mean losing weight. Check with your doctor to find out if it is okay to try to lose weight during treatment. It may be better to wait until after treatment ends. If it is okay, weight loss should be moderate, meaning only about a pound a week.
Get essential nutrients. These include protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water.
Be as active as you can. For example, take a daily walk. If you sit or sleep too much, you may lose muscle mass and increase your body fat, even if you are not gaining weight.

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