Nausea, vomiting, and mouth sores are all common side effects of breast cancer treatment. When you feel sick to your stomach and your mouth hurts, you may start to dread mealtimes.
Yet eating a balanced diet is especially important when you have breast cancer. Proper nutrition helps your body heal from treatment. Eating right will keep you at a healthy weight and help preserve your muscle strength.
If you’re having difficulty eating enough, use these tips to get more nutrition into your daily diet.
Meet with a registered dietitian
A dietitian can help you design a healthy meal plan that fits with your food preferences and nutritional needs. They can also teach you ways to manage cancer treatment side effects like nausea so that you can eat a more well-balanced diet.
If you can, work with a dietitian who has experience in treating people with breast cancer. Ask your oncologist or nurse to recommend someone.
Restock your pantry and fridge
Certain food choices are better than others for people with breast cancer. Here’s a quick guide.
Foods to eat
- Vegetables and fruits. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are high in plant nutrients called phytochemicals. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts may be especially good choices because they have antiestrogen properties. Try to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Whole grains. Whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, and other whole grains are high in fiber. Eating extra fiber may help you avoid the constipation that certain cancer drugs can cause. Try to eat at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily.
- Lentils and beans. These legumes are high in protein and low in fat.
- Protein. Choose healthy sources of protein, which will help keep your body strong. Examples include skinless chicken and turkey breasts, and fatty fish such as tuna and salmon. You can also get protein from nonanimal sources like tofu and nuts.
Foods to avoid
- High-fat meats and dairy products. These foods are high in unhealthy saturated fats. Limit fatty red meat (burgers, organ meats), whole milk, butter, and cream.
- Alcohol. Beer, wine, and liquor could interact with the cancer drugs you take. Drinking alcohol is also a risk factor for the development of breast cancer.
- Sweets. Cookies, cake, candy, sodas, and other sugary treats cause weight gain. They’ll also leave less room in your diet for healthy foods.
- Undercooked foods. Cancer treatments can make your white blood cell count drop. Without enough of these immune-fighting cells, your body is left more vulnerable to infections. Avoid raw foods like sushi and oysters during your treatment. Cook all meats, fish, and poultry to a safe temperature before eating them.
Shrink the size your meals
Nausea, bloating, and constipation can make it hard to eat three large meals a day. To get the calories you need, graze on smaller portions five or six times daily. Add snacks like granola bars, yogurt, and peanut butter on crackers or apples.
Use caution when trying new diets
If you’ve been reading up on breast cancer, you might have come across stories online claiming that one diet or another can cure you. Be wary of these highly exaggerated claims.
Certain types of eating plans — like the Mediterranean or low-fat diet — might help improve the outlook for some people with cancer. One study linked a low-fat diet to better odds of survival after a breast cancer diagnosis.
But any diet you try should contain a healthy balance of nutrients, protein, calories, and fat. Going too extreme could be dangerous.
The ketogenic diet is an eating plan in which you dramatically cut carbohydrates to put your body into a state of ketosis, where it’s forced to burn stored fat for energy. Though a few studies have shown the ketogenic diet to be promising for certain types of cancer, it hasn’t been proven to treat breast cancer. And it can alter the chemical balance in your body, which could be risky.
Before you try any new diet, check with your dietitian and doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
Plan and prepare meals ahead of time
Cancer treatment can take up a lot of your day and leave you feeling exhausted. Meal prep can help make eating easier. Also, if you prepare your meals ahead of time, you’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan.
Create a meal plan for the entire week. Ask your dietitian to recommend healthy, cancer-friendly recipes, or find suggestions through organizations like the American Cancer Society.
Cook an entire week’s meals over the weekend, when you have more time. If you’re too tired to cook or you can’t stand the smell of it, ask a friend or relative to prepare meals for you.
Add more fluids
Treatment side effects like vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you. Try to drink at least 2 to 3 liters of water, fruit juice, and other caffeine-free beverages each day. If you feel nauseated, drink herbal tea with ginger or peppermint to settle your stomach.
If your mouth hurts too much to eat solid foods, get your nutrition from liquids. Drink smoothies or nutritional beverages.
Use different utensils
Sometimes chemotherapy can leave a bad taste in your mouth that gives food an unpleasant flavor. Certain foods — like meat — can take on a metallic taste.
To improve the taste of your food, avoid metal utensils and cooking implements. Use plastic cutlery instead. Cook with glass pots and pans.