Nutritional Recommendations during Breast Cancer Treatment
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this article offers nutritional suggestions during cancer treatment.
According to the National Cancer Institute, protein is a nutrient critical during treatment. Eating insufficient amounts of protein and too little calories are the most common nutritional issues facing many people undergoing cancer treatment. Adequate protein and calories are important for healing, fighting infection, and providing energy.
During breast cancer treatment, a well-balanced diet may help people cope better with common side effects, regain strength, and rebuild tissue that has been damaged by cancer. While cancer treatment side effects may pose challenges to healthy eating, it is critical to maintain a healthy diet.
Eating Around the Side Effects
Common side effects of breast cancer treatment include, but are not limited to loss of appetite, nausea, dry mouth, constipation, weight gain or loss, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some suggestions to cope with these side effects include the following:
When dealing with loss of appetite, it may be a challenge to eat and make healthy choices due to the stress. A few suggestions for managing loss of appetite include consuming several smaller meals throughout the day, having a variety of foods available, and experimenting with a variety of settings to consume food. If lack of appetite results from changes in your awareness to taste and smell, try a variety of foods, inquire if someone else will cook for you, try plastic utensils if metal irritates your sense of taste, and rinse your mouth (tea, ginger ale, salted water) to clear your taste buds and eat small, frequent meals.
Suggestions for coping with nausea include eating slowly and consuming small meals. Try foods such as toast, crackers, yogurt, oatmeal, and ice chips. Drink plenty of water, but maybe not as much during meals to prevent bloating. Vomiting may follow nausea. Some suggestions for coping with vomiting include those suggested for managing nauseous symptoms. Speak with a medical physician about medications that may control nausea and vomiting. Also, inquire about a full-liquid diet until whole foods can be kept down.
A dry mouth may be a result of breast cancer medications or other treatments which may make it difficult to swallow or chew food. Suggestions for coping with dry mouth include sipping water every few minutes to retain moisture in the mouth. Eating foods such as sweet hard candies or lemonade may assist with the generation of salvia. Choose foods with sauces, such as gravy, to help moisten the food and make it easier to swallow foods.
Constipation can occur as a result of cancer treating medications, such as Herceptin and as a result of low bulk and fluids in the diet. Suggestions for constipation include drinking plenty of fluids and increasing intake of high fiber foods. It is important to increase high fiber foods slowly if one's diet is normally low in fiber. High fiber foods include cereals, whole grain pasta, rice, as well as vegetables, fruit, and legumes. If physical activity is permitted during treatment, it can also assist with constipation. Consult a medical physician about possible medications for constipation.
Diarrhea can be caused by the stresses associated with cancer treatment, coping, as well as from the required medications and/or treatments. Important vitamins and minerals can be lost if severe diarrhea is present, so contact a medical doctor immediately if diarrhea persists for more than a few days. Diarrhea is a common side effect of several breast cancer drugs, including Herceptin, Arimidex, and Ellence. Nutritional suggestions for coping with diarrhea include drinking plenty of fluids and consuming beverages at room temperature. Try consuming several smaller meals throughout the day and choose lower fiber foods (rice, noodles, yogurt, bananas, lean meat, etc.) To help manage a bout of diarrhea, avoid fried foods, fruits, and raw vegetables that are high in fiber.
Weight loss and weight gain may occur during treatment from certain medications or stress. Speak with a medical physician if there is a major fluctuation in weight during treatment. Weight gain during cancer treatment could be a result of retaining water, yet not necessarily an increase in caloric intake. Some people may have health problems that result if a weight loss program is started while in treatment. Ideally, continue to eat a varied diet during treatment.
Below are additional suggestions on a variety of foods to consume while in treatment based on the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov) and the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org).
A varied diet provides several nutritional benefits:
- Fruits: Good sources of vitamin C. Fruits are usually low in calories and fat.
- Vegetables: Excellent sources of fiber and vitamins (A and C). Deep-yellow or dark-green vegetables are rich in vitamin A.
- Proteins: May provide protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Meats, beans, nuts, and seeds provide these benefits. Some seeds, like almonds, are good sources of vitamin E.
- Dairy products: Milk and cheese provide calcium, protein, and vitamin B12.
- Grains: Breads, pasta, rice, and cereals provide carbohydrates and B vitamins. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy. Most importantly, a person receiving treatment for breast cancer should speak with physicians, nurses, or registered dietitians on ways to maintain proper nutrition during treatment, as there are foods, vitamins, or minerals that may interact with cancer treatment.
Vegetables and Crackers
- 1 small eggplant (chopped, about 2 ¼ cups)
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped green pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 gloves garlic, minced
- 2 TBS lemon juice
- 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or pepper if watching sodium)
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 large tomato, chopped (peeled, about 1 cup)
- whole wheat (grain) crackers
- Cook eggplant, onion, green pepper, and 3 tablespoons of parsley, garlic, lemon juice, and seasoning in olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
- Add tomato and simmer for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp, spoon into a bowl, and sprinkle with remaining parsley.
- Serve immediately with crackers or refrigerate until ready to serve.