How Do I Make the Best Food Choices throughout Cancer Treatment?
When you are faced with a gynecological cancer diagnosis, whether it is ovarian, cervical, vaginal, or fallopian tube, nutrition can be an important part of your journey. Eating a well-balanced diet during and after cancer treatment can help you feel better, maintain your strength, and speed your recovery.
Maintain a healthy weight. Depending on your treatment plan, you may experience weight gain or weight loss. Aim to maintain a healthy weight during treatment, avoiding excess gain or loss. Strict dieting and fad diets that eliminate entire food groups are not recommended.
Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Eating frequent small meals will ensure your body is getting adequate calories, protein, and nutrients to endure treatment. Smaller meals may also help to minimize treatment-related side effects such as nausea. Try eating 5-6 small meals or “mini” meals about every 3 hours.
Make each meal count. You may not have your usual appetite. Or you may feel full more quickly since your diagnosis. Make each meal and snack count as you may eat less than you did before cancer. Swap nutrient rich fruits, veggies and whole grains for empty calories. Chew each bite well. Don’t hurry at meals or use too many carbonated beverages as these may you feel full too quickly.
Choose protein-rich foods. Protein helps the body to repair cells and tissues. It also aids in the recovery and maintenance of the immune system. Choose to include a source of lean protein at all meals and snacks. Choose plant-based proteins as well as lean meats. Good sources of lean protein include:
- Lean meats such as chicken, fish, or turkey
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese or dairy substitutes
- Nuts and nut butters
- Soy foods
Include whole grains. Whole grains provide a good source of carbohydrate and fiber, which help sustain energy levels. Good sources of whole grains include:
- Whole wheat breads
- Brown rice
- Whole grain pastas
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables offer the body antioxidants which can help fight against cancer. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get the greatest benefit. Aim to eat a minimum of 5 servings of whole fruits and vegetables daily.
Choose sources of healthy fat. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Avoid fried, greasy, and fatty foods, Choose baked, broiled, or grilled foods instead.
Limit sweets and added sugars. Foods high in added sugars like desserts and sweets provide little nutritional benefit and often take the place of other nutritious foods.
Be observant of changes in bowel habits. Some gynecological cancer treatments can lead to changes in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas. It is important for you to communicate with your healthcare team any changes in your bowel habits. Changes in your diet or medications may be necessary to manage these side effects.
Stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluids during cancer treatment is important for preventing dehydration. Aim to drink 64 ounces of fluid daily. Avoid drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages as too much caffeine can lead to dehydration.
Practice good food safety. Wash hands often while preparing food. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables as well as separate knives. Be sure to cook all foods to their proper temperature and refrigerate leftovers right away. Read more about Food Safety.
Talk to your healthcare team before taking any vitamins or supplements. Some medications and cancer treatments may interact with vitamins and supplements. Choose food first as the primary source for nutrients.
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol may contribute to dehydration, can impair the immune system, and provides no beneficial nutrients.
Stay active. Plan time each day or two to have physical activity such as walking, stretching, yoga, or moving to music. Keeping physically active helps reduce stress, improve bowel regularity and controls your body shape. Always check with your physician before starting physical activity. Also, request a referral to a physical therapist for an exercise plan to safely increase your strength and wellness during treatments.
Most importantly, know that your cancer journey is unique to you and your treatment. You may experience side effects that affect your ability to follow these suggestions. If you are struggling with any side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or any other nutrition concerns, your needs may be different. A registered dietitian can suggest nutrition guidelines that will be appropriate for your cancer journey. Schedule a time to talk to PearlPoint’s registered dietitian.