In the past, you may have promised yourself to start eating a more healthy and nutritious diet. Now is the time to put that promise into action. Eating well can combat fatigue, help you feel better, and keep your body strong so you can cope more easily with the side effects of treatment. It can also help you heal and recover more readily from your treatment.
Your reaction to food may differ from someone who has the exact same diagnosis. Some people continue to enjoy eating and maintain a strong appetite. Others want to eat well but are unable to do so. Feelings of fear and anxiety may complicate the desire to eat.
Nausea, in particular, can interfere with eating well. During treatment, some people may experience nausea or vomiting while others may never have either. If you feel sick to your stomach between meals, it may help to eat six to eight small meals during the day rather than three large meals. Avoid foods that are very sweet, greasy, fried or emit a strong smell.
And finally, keep in mind that your dietary changes do not have to be dramatic. Begin with the item that is easiest for you or your family, then choose another after a few weeks, and then another. Before you know it, you will have moved into a healthier eating pattern.
There are seven keys to a healthier diet:
- Remove White Food From Your Diet.White food tends to be processed food, low in nutrients and high in sugar. White bread is probably the easiest item to immediately identify and eliminate. But don’t take all bread from your diet – grains can be an important source of fiber, selenium and vitamins B and E. Try different wheat breads to see which you like best.
- Select Vegetables and Fruits with Vivid ColorsThe more intense the color of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutritional content is. Choose dark leafy greens, peas, edamame or spinach for vitamins B and C, iron, protein and fiber. Don’t shy away from canned vegetables, especially if they make your life easier right now. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a healthy alternative. Try the “3-colors-a-day” trick as an easy way of ensuring fruits and vegetables make it to your menu. For example, blueberries (1) with breakfast, dark leafy lettuce (2) on your sandwich at lunch, red peppers (3) with chicken at dinner. How many colors did you eat today?
- Become Aware of Phytochemicals“Phyto” means plant. Phytochemicals are nutrients derived from plants, and they are healthy buzzwords in nutrition and cancer research. Phytochemicals appear to stimulate the immune system, exhibit antibacterial and antiviral activity, and, in general, help your body fight cancer. Some foods these are found in are onions, garlic, leeks, chives, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, tea, coffee, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), berries, beans and whole grains.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, HydrateNutritionists aren’t kidding when they tell us our bodies need at least 8 glasses of fluid a day. During chemotherapy, additional fluids are needed to replace fluid lost through treatment side effects. The weight gain and puffiness caused by steroids might tempt you to skimp on your water. Don’t – avoiding water now will only worsen the side effects.
- Eat Healthy FatHealthy fat, like Omega-3, may increase the activity of the immune system’s natural killer cells. Flaxseed is the richest plant source of these healthy Omega-3 fats. Add 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed or flaxmeal a day into your morning breakfast cereal, or use ground flaxmeal in a smoothie. Oily fish, such as lake trout, herring and sardines, as well as canola and walnut oil are all excellent sources of Omega-3 fats.
- Follow the 80/20 RuleThis is a tip with a built-in reward. No one can eat healthy all the time; sometimes you’ll have a hard time sticking the plan, or may not feel well. If you can make healthy selections 80% of the time, you can allow yourself to make less healthy choices 20% of the time. Knowing you have some wiggle room allows you to make healthier choices long term and not feel constricted or deprived.
- Consult a Licensed, Registered DietitianInterested in learning more? Have a particular nutritional goal you are trying to meet? Consider a personal consultation with a registered dietitian. Call the American Dietetic Association at 800-877-1600 for the names of licensed dietitians in your area.