If you're living with cancer, diet is one aspect of your condition where you can take control. A healthy, Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to help people with cancer control their condition, but there may be times when your appetite is poor for more than a few days, and additional help is needed.
Interest in food can be altered with cancer, and loss of appetite is a common problem. Recovering from surgery, having chemotherapy or radiotherapy cancer treatments can all affect a person's appetite and interest in food. Some studies suggest up to half of people having chemotherapy experience unintentional weight loss. It's important to address any issue to make sure you get the nutrition you need to help you recover well.
Trying to eat a varied diet is one of the most beneficial self-care actions you can take. Eating well can help a person with cancer:
- Protect against excessive weight loss
- Boost energy levels
- Cope with potential side effects of cancer treatment, including psychological issues
- Tolerate their full course of cancer treatment
- Support immunity to help fight infections and recover more quickly from surgery
Tips to Keep the Weight On
People living with cancer sometimes experience difficulties consuming a varied diet. Taste changes, a sore mouth, or lack of appetite can all affect dietary choices and contribute to unintentional weight loss. There are some simple dietary approaches to try and prevent this:
- Eat small, frequent meals or snacks every 2 or 3 hours
- Make sure to eat foods with a high amount of calories and protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, and full-fat dairy products
- To boost calories, include fried foods and pastry dishes if tolerated, add double cream to custard, desserts and yoghurt, and include snacks in between meals
- If feeling full quickly is a problem, save drinks until after you've eaten to improve your mealtime food intake
- Speak to your hospital team if you are concerned about your food intake during cancer treatment. A referral to a dietitian can provide invaluable help
Concerned about weight loss? Let your GP know
It's important to speak with your doctor if you are losing weight unintentionally. Visit www.malnutritionselfscreening.org for information on screening yourself for malnutrition.
Your GP may refer you to a dietitian for additional help, advice and monitoring. A checklist which may help you discuss your concerns can be found at: http://www.patients-association.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/The-Patients-Association-Nutrition-Checklist.pdf
For those losing weight despite their best efforts not to, oral nutritional supplements may be recommended to support your diet. These are special foods designed to help you meet your nutritional requirements by increasing not only your calorie and protein intake, but also provide essential vitamins and minerals, too.
Oral nutritional supplements come in a variety of flavours and forms, which mean you and your GP will be able to select a product that meets your preferences. For more information about cancer-related nutritional issues, visit http://www.nutritionincancer.co.uk. Additionally, a variety of useful leaflets on nutrition can be found at http://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/health/nutrition
If you have questions or concerns about unintentional weight loss and how to improve your nutritional intake, speak to your healthcare professional or visit http://malnutritionpathway.co.uk/leaflets-patients-and-carers.
Oral nutritional supplements are foods for special medical purposes for use in the dietary management of disease related malnutrition and must be used under medical supervision.