Nutrition in Cancer Care

1. Recommendations – what to eat or not eat after breast cancer?

Most eating-related side effects of cancer treatments go away after treatment ends. Sometimes side effects like poor appetite, dry mouth, change in taste, smell or weight changes last for some time. If this happens to you, talk to your cancer care team and work out a plan to deal with the problem.

As you begin to feel better, you may have questions about healthy eating. Eating well will help you regain your strength, rebuild tissue, and feel better overall.

Tips for healthy eating after cancer

  • Check with your cancer care team for any food or diet restrictions.
  • Ask your dietitian to help you create a nutritious, balanced eating plan.
  • Choose a variety of foods from all the food groups. Try to eat at least 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables.
  • Eat plenty of high-fiber foods, like whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • Buy a fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat food, or whole-grain products.
  • Decrease the amount of fat in your meals by baking or broiling foods.
  • Limit your intake of red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) to no more than 3 to 4 servings a week.
  • Avoid salt-cured, smoked, and pickled foods (including bacon, sausage, and deli meats).
  • Choose low-fat dairy products.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount to no more than 1 drink per day for women, and 2 for men. Alcohol is a known cancer-causing agent.

If you’re overweight, consider losing weight by cutting calories and increasing your activity. Choose activities that you enjoy. Be sure to check with your cancer care team before starting any exercise program.

2. Nutrition during the cancer treatment

2.1 Before treatment begins

Until you start treatment, you won’t know what, if any, side effects you may have or how you will feel. One way to prepare is to look at your treatment as a time to focus on yourself and on getting well. Here are some other ways to get ready:

Make plans now

You can reduce your anxiety about treatment and side effects by taking action now. Talk to your cancer care team about the things that worry you. Learn as much as you can about the cancer, your treatment plan, and how you might feel during the treatment. Planning how you’ll cope with possible side effects can make you feel more in control and ready for the changes that may come.

Here are some tips to help you get ready for treatment:

  • Stock your pantry and freezer with your favorite foods so you won’t need to shop as often.
  • Cook in advance, and freeze foods in ready portions.
  • Talk to your friends or family members about ways they can help with shopping and cooking. Be sure to tell them if there are certain foods or spices you have eating troubles.
  • Talk to your cancer care team about any concerns you have about eating. Specialists can help you make diet changes and help to eliminate side effects like constipation, weight loss, or nausea.

2.2 Once treatment starts

Eat well

Your body needs a healthy diet to function at its best, especially if you have cancer. With a healthy diet, you’ll go into treatment with reserves to help keep up your strength. People who eat well are better able to cope with side effects of treatment. Try these tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new products- some of them you may never have liked before may taste good during treatment.
  • Choose different plant-based foods. Try eating beans and peas instead of meat.
  • Try to eat at least 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables. Colorful vegetables and fruits and plant based foods contain many natural health-promoting substances.
  • Limit high-fat foods, especially those from animal sources. Choose lower-fat milk and dairy products.
  • Try to stay at a healthy weight and stay physically active.
  • Limit the amount of salt, smoked, and pickled food.

If you can’t do any of the above tips during this time, don’t worry about it. Sometimes diet changes are needed to get the extra fluids, protein and calories you need. Tell your cancer care team about any problems you have.

Snack as needed

During cancer treatment your body often needs extra calories and protein to help you maintain your weight. If you’re losing weight, snacks can help you keep up your strength, energy level and feel better. During treatment you may have to rely on snacks that are less healthy sources of calories. Keep in mind that this is just for a short while – once side effects go away you can return to a healthier diet. Try these tips to make it easier to add snacks to your daily routine:

  • Eat small snacks throughout the day
  • Keep a variety of protein-rich snacks that are easy to prepare, such as: yogurt, cereal with milk, a bowl of soup, cheese and crackers
  • Avoid snacks that may make any treatment-related side effects worse. If you have diarrhea, avoid popcorn and raw fruits and vegetables. If you have a sore throat, do not eat dry snacks or acidic foods.

If you’re able to eat normally and maintain your weight without snacks, then don’t include them into your bill of fare.

2.3 Tips to get more calories and protein

  • Eat several small snacks throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals.
  • Eat your favorite foods at any time of the day, for instance breakfast foods for dinner.
  • Eat every few hours. Don’t wait until you feel hungry.
  • Eat your biggest meal when you feel hungriest.
  • Try to eat high-calorie, high-protein foods at each meal and snack.
  • Exercise lightly or take a walk before meals to increase your appetite.
  • Drink high-calorie, high-protein beverages, like milk shakes and canned liquid supplements.
  • Drink most of your fluids between meals instead of with meals. Drinking fluid with meals can make you feel too full.
  • Try homemade puddings.

2.4 High-protein foods

Milk products
Eat cheese on toast or with crackers.
Add grated cheese to baked potatoes, vegetables, soups, noodles, meat, and fruit.
Use milk in place of water for hot cereal and soups.
Include cream or cheese sauces on vegetables and pasta.
Add powdered milk to cream soups, mashed potatoes, puddings, and casseroles.
Add Greek yogurt, powdered whey protein, or cottage cheese to favorite fruits or blended smoothies.

Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator. Chop and add to salads, casseroles, soups, and vegetables. Make a quick egg salad.
Eggs should be well-cooked to avoid the risk of harmful bacteria.

Meats, poultry, and fish
Add cooked meats to soups, casseroles, salads, and omelets.
Mix diced or flaked cooked meat with sour cream and spices to make dip.

Beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds
Sprinkle seeds or nuts on desserts like fruit, ice cream, pudding, and custard.
Serve also with vegetables, salads, and pasta.

2.5 High-calorie foods

Melt butter over potatoes, rice, pasta, and cooked vegetables.
Stir melted butter into soups and casseroles and spread on bread before adding other ingredients.

Milk products
Add whipped cream to desserts, pancakes, waffles, fruits and mix it with hot chocolate.
Add sour cream to baked potatoes and vegetables.

Salad dressings
Use common (not low-fat or diet) mayonnaise and salad dressing on sandwiches or with vegetables and fruits.

Add jelly and honey to bread and crackers.
Add jam to fruit.
Use ice cream as a topping on cake.

3. Benefits of good nutrition for women after mastectomy

Good nutrition is especially important if you have cancer because both the illness and its treatments can change the way you eat. Cancer and cancer treatments can also affect the way your body tolerates certain foods and uses nutrients.

The nutrient needs of people with cancer vary from person to person. Your cancer care team can help you identify nutritional goals and plan the solutions.

Eating well while you’re being treated for cancer might help you:

  • Feel better
  • Keep up strength and energy
  • Maintain weight and store the nutrients
  • Better tolerate treatment-related side effects
  • Lower your risk of infection
  • Recover faster.

Eating well means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs to fight with disease. These nutrients include: protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals.


3.1 Proteins

We need proteins for growth, to repair body tissue, and to keep our immune systems healthy. When the body doesn’t get enough protein, the muscles cannot grow. This makes it take longer to recover from illness and can lower resistance to infection. People with cancer often need more protein than usual. After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and help fight infection.
Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts and nut butters, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods.

3.2 Fats

Fats play an important role in nutrition. Fats and oils are made of fatty acids and serve as a rich source of energy for the body. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissues, and transport some types of vitamins through the blood. When considering the effects of fats on your heart and cholesterol level, choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils like olive, canola, and peanut oils. Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, corn and flaxseed.

3.3 Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of energy. Carbohydrates give the body the fuel it needs for physical activity and proper body function. The best sources of carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – also supply needed vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients to the body’s cells.
Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential naturally occurring nutrients. Whole grains are found in cereals, breadstuff, and flours.
Other sources of carbohydrates include bread, potatoes, rice, spaghetti, pasta, cereals, corn, peas, and beans. Sweets (desserts, candy, and drinks with sugar) can supply carbohydrates, but provide very little in the way of vitamins, minerals, or nutrients.

3.4 Water

Water and liquids or fluids are vital to health. All body cells need water to function. If you don’t take in enough fluids or if you lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea, you can become dehydrated. If this happens, the fluids and minerals that help keep your body working can become dangerously out of balance. Each person should also drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day. You may need extra fluids if you’re vomiting, having diarrhea. Keep in mind that all liquids (soups, milk, even ice cream and gelatin) count towards your fluid goals.

3.5 Vitamins and minerals

The body needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals to help it function properly. Most are found naturally in foods. They are also sold as supplements in pill and liquid form. Vitamins and minerals help the body use the energy in the form of calories found in foods.
A person who eats a balanced diet with enough calories and protein usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. Your doctor or dietitian may suggest a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
If you’re thinking of taking a vitamin or supplement, be sure to discuss this with your doctor first. Some people with cancer take large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements to try to boost their immune system. But some of these substances can be harmful, especially when taken in large doses. In fact, large doses of some vitamins and minerals may make chemotherapy and radiation therapy less effective.

3.8 Herbs

Herbs have been used to treat disease for hundreds of years, with mixed results. Today, herbs are found in many products, like pills, liquid extracts, teas, and ointments. Many of these products are harmless and safe to use, but others can cause harmful side effects, so consult it with your doctor.

Information Source:
Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. July 2015. American Cancer Society