Cancer treatments can have several side effects. While medication, radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments are designed to eliminate cancer cells, they also damage healthy cells. Everyone reacts differently, but both the disease and its treatment affect a patient’s normal routine. This leads to changes in eating, sleep patterns, work life, and exercise. Other effects can be low energy levels, pain, and fever, which can also impact emotional well-being, leading to depression, anxiety, fear, or loneliness.
1. Side effects of cancer treatment
Treatment can affect food habits in different ways because the diagnosis and medical profiles vary from person to person. In some patients, the side effects can be severe, while they may be mild or absent in others.
The typical reactions can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
- Loss of appetite and food refusal
- Gas/feeling bloated
- Taste alterations
- Dry mouth and mouth sores
- Lactose intolerance
- Changes in the sense of smell
- Weight loss/gain
2. A healthy cancer diet
In many cases, patients find it difficult to maintain a regular and healthy diet. An effective strategy to deal with this is to provide options in the form of smaller, more frequent meals or healthy snacks for cancer patients.
Patients who live alone may find it more challenging to ensure balanced, nutritious and regular food intake. In such cases, stocking up on easy-to-prepare, freezer-friendly, balanced meal-sized portions, and a variety of snacks is the ideal solution.
Including a variety of nutritious snacks for cancer patients helps bridge the gap between meals, and they also make for effective substitutes for a full meal. Based on individual protein/calorie/fiber requirements, the snack options for cancer patients include the following:
- Clear broths
- Fruit drinks and vegetable juices
- Lean meat cuts
- Cooked eggs
- Plain pasta, white rice, or noodles
- Saltine crackers with cheese, nut butter
- Dips made from mayo, cheese, beans, or sour cream
- Granola bars
- Custard, yogurt, or ice-cream (if there’s no lactose intolerance)
- Meal replacement ready-made foods
- Soft or stewed fruits
3. Food safety and snacks for cancer patients
Here are some tips to maintain high levels of food safety as the immunity levels of cancer patients are low:
- Store food appropriately at recommended temperatures
- Avoid storing leftovers as much as possible
- If raw fruits/vegetables are served, scrub thoroughly and rinse in clean water, even if they’re peeled
- Wash hands, implements, counter-tops thoroughly before and after preparation
- Use different cutting boards for vegetarian/non-vegetarian foods
- Avoid sushi, shellfish, under-done meats, nuts, buffets, self-service restaurants, and salad bars
- Don’t leave frozen food outside to thaw
- Drink only boiled/pasteurized milk
- Avoid condiments/products past use-by dates
Problems with digestion, loss of appetite, and mood swings make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet and keep up strength, stamina, and immunity. Smaller, lighter meals and snacks that are nutritious, safe, and hygienic help maintain a sense of well-being, energy, stamina, immunity, and strength.