The Importance of Food Consciousness During Chemotherapy

12th June 2019, Jenni Allan, Freelance Author

Every year approximately 37,000 new cancer cases are reported in Malaysia according to The Star Malaysia. For many of these cancer patients, chemotherapy is prescribed as the primary form of treatment. Despite having a high success rate, chemotherapy does not come without side effects. Apart from fatigue, hair loss, and nausea, many patients also experience anemia and frequent infections. One of the most powerful defenses known to counter these and other adverse effects is a nutrient-dense, balanced diet that adheres to vital food safety regulations. Knowing what to eat and what to avoid can make a huge difference in how fast your bounce back after your treatment sessions as well as contribute towards your overall recovery process.

> Always steer clear of undercooked foods

If your chemo has caused side effects like mouth ulcers, taste changes, and nausea chances are you have already compiled a mental list of foods to stay away from. Apart from those foods that you simply don’t feel like eating (or simply cannot eat), there are also those that pose a health risk due to their potential to harbor foodborne illnesses which can prove to be very dangerous for your already-weakened immune system according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.  Stay far away from any raw and undercooked and, where possible, avoid deli meats, unpasteurized dairy, smoked fish, raw shellfish such as oysters, and anything made with raw egg, such as cookie dough. Instead, opt for food that has been proven to be beneficial during chemo such as ginger that can help combat nausea, whole grains that battle constipation, orange juice that prevents a dry mouth by stimulating the saliva glands and selenium-rich oats and nuts that have their own cancer-fighting properties.

> Keep an eye on your weight

When you undergo chemotherapy it is natural to notice a slight fluctuation in your weight. Severe fluctuations with regards to both weight gain and weight loss, however, may have a big effect on your overall health as well as your capability to endure your treatments.While you are undergoing chemo or any other form of cancer treatment it is therefore important to keep a close eye on your weight. If you suspect that your body is starting to use its own fat reserves as a fuel it may be a good idea to get hold of a ketone blood meter to see exactly how your body is reacting to your diet. Make sure your diet is filled with all the required nutrients and avoid excluding any food groups such as protein and carbs as it can cause havoc with your weight and your immune system.

> Special diets for special patients

Patients receiving chemotherapy often experience severe side effects that necessitate them to follow a special diet. There are, thankfully, a variety of special diets that may be prescribed to you by the dietitian working with your oncology team. Among these modified diets is a clear liquid diet that may be recommended if you experience frequent bouts of vomiting or diarrhea. This diet consists of liquids such as clear fruit juice, broth, tea, and popsicles. A full liquid diet consists of both liquids and semi-liquids and is ideal for patients who may have difficulty swallowing. A full liquid diet may include milk, yogurt, ice cream and sorbet, soup, custard, and any of the oral nutritional supplements already prescribed to you. Other special diets that may be prescribed include a soft/low fiber diet, a low lactose diet, a carb-controlled diet, and high calorie/high protein diet.

What we eat has a direct influence on our health and general well-being. By making wise food choices while undergoing chemotherapy you are not only able to reduce the prevalence of some side effects, but you will also be in a better position to fight your cancer head-on.