To ensure adequate nutrition, focus on consuming small, frequent, nutrient-dense meals and staying well hydrated.
Cancer and its treatments can lead to various side effects, such as nausea, taste changes, and mouth sores. These effects can make it difficult to enjoy food or feel hungry. But good nutrition is essential to fight the disease, support your immune system, and help you maintain strength.
By choosing appropriate foods and eating small meals, you can get the nourishment you need and support your body’s healing during this challenging journey.
Eggs and toast
Eggs and toast offer protein, essential vitamins, and minerals. They’re also relatively bland and mild in flavor, so they may be somewhat easy to eat when you’re experiencing nausea.
Eggs are a good source of high quality protein, which is essential for maintaining muscle mass and supporting your body’s healing process during cancer treatment. Whole grain toast contains fiber to help stabilize your blood sugar levels and provide a steady energy source.
Oatmeal is easy to digest, so it’s less likely to cause discomfort or worsen nausea. Its soluble fiber content can help soothe your stomach and regulate bowel movements, promoting digestive health during cancer treatment.
Because it’s a bland and neutral food, oatmeal is a good option when you’re dealing with nausea and taste changes associated with cancer therapy.
Bone broth can be a good option when you have no appetite because it’s rich in nutrients and easy to consume as a warm, comforting drink.
White rice with boiled or steamed vegetables
White rice with boiled or steamed vegetables is an excellent choice if you’re experiencing nausea. Rice is an easily digestible grain that provides a steady source of energy through carbohydrates, and its low fat content makes it gentle on your stomach.
Avocado, tuna, chicken salad, or egg salad
Avocado, tuna, chicken salad, and egg salad are also ideal because they are rich sources of protein and healthy fat, essential nutrients for healing during treatment. Putting these ingredients in a sandwich is a great way to add calories to your meal.
Baked or steamed fish
Fish is an excellent source of protein, which is important for maintaining strength and supporting your immune system during cancer treatment. It also provides omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation.
Here are some snacking tips to consider:
- Opt for small, frequent snacks throughout the day.
- Make smoothies if you cannot stomach solid foods. Blend fruits, vegetables, protein sources (yogurt or protein powder), and healthy fats (avocado or nut butter).
- Focus on nutrient-dense snacks that provide a good balance of vitamins, minerals, and calories, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, yogurt, and cheese.
- Choose foods that are easy on your stomach, such as plain crackers or rice cakes.
- Top crackers with healthy fats such as avocado, nut butter, or olive oil to increase calorie intake without increasing volume.
- Eat cold foods, which may be more palatable if strong smells bother you.
- Use meal replacement bars or shakes if you’re unable to meet your nutrition goals.
- Stay hydrated by incorporating snacks with high water content, such as watermelon or cucumbers.
- Prepare snack portions in advance so they’re readily available when hunger strikes.
- Include protein in your snacks, such as by pairing crackers, fruit, or rice cakes with cheese, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, or nut butter.
If you cannot stomach solid foods, try eating soups that incorporate bone broth or make nutrient-rich smoothies or shakes that are easier to consume than solid foods. You can also consider using nutritional supplements, such as protein shakes, meal replacement bars, or vitamins, to fill in any nutrient gaps.
However, the overall evidence is still quite limited, and larger, well-designed studies are needed to learn more about these benefits.
The following factors can cause loss of appetite in people with cancer:
- Cancer itself: Tumors can release chemicals that suppress appetite-regulating signals in your brain.
- Cancer treatments: Chemotherapy and radiation can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, taste changes, and mouth sores, which can lead to reduced hunger.
- Pain and fatigue: Cancer-related pain and fatigue can decrease the desire to eat.
- Emotional factors: Anxiety and depression associated with cancer can affect appetite.
- Medications: Some medications used in cancer treatment can influence hunger and fullness signals.
- Hormonal imbalances: Cancer can disrupt hormonal balance, affecting appetite.
- Metabolic changes: The disease and its treatment can cause metabolic changes that affect appetite regulation.
People with cancer can try several strategies to increase their appetite:
- Frequent small meals: Eating several small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals can make eating less overwhelming.
- Gentle exercise: Light physical activity, such as short walks, can stimulate appetite.
- Management of stress and anxiety: Practicing relaxation techniques may help reduce stress, which can affect appetite.
- Social support: Eating with friends or family can make meals more enjoyable and encouraging.
- Appetite stimulants: In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications to boost appetite.
What can caregivers do to help cancer patients eat?
Caregivers play a crucial role in supporting the nutritional needs of people with cancer and can take various steps to help them eat, such as:
- offering favorite foods
- providing small, frequent meals
- encouraging hydration
- being flexible and patient
If you or a loved one is undergoing treatment for cancer, eating may be a challenge, especially due to loss of appetite and nausea.
Still, it’s important to eat well, as nutrition plays a vital role in supporting recovery and overall health. Try to eat small, frequent meals. And when you cannot eat solid foods, try drinking protein smoothies or consuming soups made with bone broth.
It’s important to work closely with your healthcare team to find the best strategies to increase your appetite and maintain proper nutrition.