Getting the right nutrition can be challenging if you're undergoing treatment for cancer. This can be especially true for patients with stomach cancer. But eating the right vitamins, minerals, proteins and calories helps in the healing process.
While there is no one stomach cancer diet, these food-related tips can help.
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1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you have stomach cancer, you may experience loss of appetite, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. This may be due to cancer medications such as chemotherapy or because of stomach cancer surgery — you may not be able to eat large meals and may feel full after just a few bites.
You may also have difficulty digesting fats and proteins or food may leave your stomach too quickly, a condition called dumping syndrome. These factors can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. This is why the Canadian Cancer Society says it's important to make every bite count.
"The best foods for people with a diagnosis of stomach cancer are going to be those which the person tolerates best. Generally, small, frequent meals are the best eating pattern — people should aim to consume about six mini meals a day," says Rebecca Guterman, RD, CDN, who works at the Tisch Cancer Institute with Mount Sinai Hospital.
Overall, patients should eat a high-protein diet that is low in carbohydrates and sugary foods, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
2. Pick High-Protein Foods
"Each meal should consist of an easy-to-digest protein source," Guterman says. This includes foods such as tender chicken or turkey, fish, pureed beans, hummus, nut butters, eggs or Greek yogurt, she says.
It's best to avoid high-fiber proteins — too much fiber can make a person feel uncomfortably full or full too quickly, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Substitute fish for shellfish and eggs instead of steak. Tofu and avocados are also good protein choices.
In addition, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends adding whole milk or cream to meals like soups and cereals. Adding olive oil or gravies to meat and vegetables is another good strategy to get additional calories. When it comes to snacks, cheese and crackers, whole-wheat bread with nut butters and eggs are all good ways to quickly and easily get protein.
If you don't feel like eating solid foods, pudding and yogurt are good options. You can also drink calories in the form of protein shakes or smoothies, per the Canadian Cancer Society.
3. Avoid High-Fiber Fruits and Veggies
As mentioned, high-fiber foods can make patients feel too full. You may want to avoid fruits and vegetables such as beans, lentils, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and apples, as these are all very high in this nutrient.
"Softer fruits may be easier to tolerate, such as bananas, melons or pears. Well-cooked vegetables are better than raw if a patient is feeling full quickly," Guterman says.
4. Choose Carbs Carefully
Whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are healthy choices, Guterman says, but she advises against eating too much, as they are very high in fiber.
It's also best to avoid sugary foods, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Candies and desserts may be high in calories ,but they don't offer much, if any, nutritional benefit. If you're struggling to eat enough food, focus on protein-rich foods that will give you energy.
If you have dumping syndrome, you may experience low blood sugar after meals, according to the nonprofit organization No Stomach For Cancer. If this is the case, consult with your doctor about the best carbohydrates for maintaining healthy blood sugar.
5. Avoid Food Irritants
People with stomach cancer often experience nausea, so it's best to limit or avoid alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks and spicy foods, which can make this symptom worse, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
6. Limit Beverages During Meals
"Beverages should be sipped during a meal with the goal to drink most liquids between meals, not during. This will prevent patients from getting too full, leaving more room for nutritious foods," Guterman says.
She also adds that protein shakes or milkshakes can be sipped throughout the day to both stay hydrated and meet nutritional needs.
7. Get Enough Vitamins
It's not uncommon for people with stomach cancer to have low vitamin or mineral levels. Your doctor may recommend monthly vitamin B12 injections to prevent a deficiency, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They may also recommend oral iron and calcium supplements if you aren't able to get enough of these nutrients through your diet.
Some patients who are unable to maintain weight on their own may need the help of a feeding tube. Be sure to discuss your diet with your doctor or dietitian. They will help you create the best diet plan for your individual needs while navigating stomach cancer.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Post-Gastrectomy Syndrome Overview"
- Canadian Cancer Society: "Nutrition and Stomach Cancer"
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: "What Should I Eat If I Have Stomach Cancer?"
- Mayo Clinic: "High-Fiber Foods"
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "I Have Stomach Cancer. What Should I Eat?"
- No Stomach For Cancer: "Dumping Syndrome"
- Cancer Answers: Stomach Cancer Treatment Information
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.