Cancer: Eating Right During Cancer Treatment (cont.)

Some good food-based sources of important vitamins and nutrients for people with cancer:

  • Eggs and nuts are great sources of B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, and protein. Egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D. Peanut butter and crackers are an easy, no-prep snack that pack nutrients and may be easier to keep down.
  • Milk, cheese, meat, fish, and poultry are also good sources of B-complex vitamins, as well as protein. If you're having trouble eating hot dishes (the aroma of cooking food can sometimes trigger chemotherapy-related nausea), snack on mild cheeses, ice cream, yogurt, and other cold snacks. For larger meals, try chilled dishes like chicken, egg, and tuna salad.
  • Beans and other legumes offer plenty of B vitamins while helping meet your protein needs as well.
  • Since chemo-related mouth sores may make it painful to drink citrus juices or eat citrus fruits, which are the most common sources of vitamin C, consider alternative fruits and juices. "Peach and pear nectars, as well as applesauce, are good alternative ways to get vitamin C," Scroggs says.
  • Green, leafy vegetables, of course, are great sources of vitamins like A, E, and K, as well as minerals like iron. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables carefully; your immune system can be compromised by cancer treatment and susceptible to contaminants in food.

Don't Lose Out on Liquids

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can leave you dehydrated. Some drugs can also cause kidney damage if they're not flushed out of your system, so during cancer treatment, it's particularly important to get enough fluids. "Adequate hydration can't be supplied by a healthy diet alone," says Deng. "Along with drinking more water, patients should try sports drinks, like Gatorade, and other nutritional drinks."

Some people find it hard to drink enough water (chemotherapy can even make water taste strange), so Deng suggests getting some of your fluid intake through soups. "For some people, the added flavor of something like chicken noodle soup may make it easier to get the liquid down," he says.

Chicken soup has another benefit: It boosts your electrolytes (the collective term for the minerals sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium), which can often be depleted by the side effects of treatment. "It's very important to make sure that you have adequate electrolyte intake," Deng says. Gatorade and other sports drinks also help maintain your electrolyte balance.

The bottom line, according to Deng: "Don't get fixated on any one particular substance. There's no magic food or magic supplement," he says. "Nothing beats a well-balanced, diverse diet."

Published Aug. 6, 2004.
Medically updated Sept. 23, 2005.

SOURCES: Gary Deng, MD, assistant attending and assistant member, Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. Sally Scroggs, MS, RD, LD, senior health education coordinator, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston . American Cancer Society.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 5:24:25 AM