Maintaining your nutrition as a cancer patient is not easy. Chemotherapy and radiation leave you feeling nauseous, and foods you used to love can suddenly seem incredibly unappetizing. It’s unfortunate, because during this time, nutrition can be a huge factor in not only fighting the fatigue of treatment, but also fighting the cancer that’s making you sick in the first place. If you’re taking care of a loved one with cancer or facing the disease yourself, here are a few foods that may help in easing those side effects and improving overall health.
One of the worst things about cancer treatments is the intense nausea and vomiting that can come along with them. Ginger is an old folk remedy for nausea, and randomized trials have upheld its ability to quell nausea in patients looking for relief. You can buy the tea commercially or prepare it yourself: simply dice a teaspoon of ginger and boil it in water. Strain out the ginger and add milk and honey to taste.
In cancer treatments, even the side-effects can have side-effects. All that nausea can cause patients to not eat at all, leading to a very low caloric intake and anorexia. Anorexia certainly doesn’t help a cancer patient’s body fight off the fatigue of treatment. The article “Nutrition in Cancer Care” published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer recommends milk-based drinks as a way to get an adequate amount of calories from both protein and carbs, since milk is one of the food groups that are more easily tolerated by people with nausea.
Along with ginger, vitamin B6 has also been shown to be an effective treatment for nausea. Surprisingly, potatoes are a good source of this vitamin, and they also happen to be a rather bland food group—something very welcome by chemo patients experiencing changes in their taste preferences. Whether you decide to bake or roast them, these veggies can be an easy way to settle that upset stomach.
Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene. Some studies have shown lycopene to be especially good at causing apoptosis in cancer cells, making the cells burst and die. While the research is rather limited, it doesn’t hurt to consider whipping up a dinner of pasta and red sauce or some chana masala. Tomatoes also contain B vitamins, again to help settle nausea, as well as the other antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E, which have been shown to boost the immune system and overall health. Dry mouth and trouble swallowing is another side-effect of chemo—making dishes that have a wet component, like tomato sauce, can make eating easier and more enjoyable.
In studies, cancer patients as a group have shown taste aversions to several food groups: coffee, chocolate, and citrus were amongst the most reported. For patients who previously ate citrus as a way to get Vitamin C and other antioxidants, they may need to replace this food group with something more palatable. Broccoli contains high amounts of C, as well as potassium and a number of other helpful antioxidants.