Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Severe weight loss and dehydration during radiation treatment is common, particularly if you are undergoing therapy for cancers of the head and neck. Eating a nutrient-dense diet and keeping up your weight is vital to your battle and recovery during and after treatment. Choose healthy, whole foods that you enjoy eating to replenish and energize your body.
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Proteins to Heal Cells
Protein is the building material of your body, and is necessary for healing and rejuvenating your body. It is particularly important to get sufficient amounts of protein-rich foods during all the stages of your cancer treatment and recovery. A review published in "CA," a journal for clinicians, recommends that patients in recovery get at least 10 percent of their daily calories from proteins. The best sources of protein include low-fat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk and dairy products, legumes and nuts.
Fuel Up With Healthy Carbs
Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of fuel; you need plenty of energy to sustain your body during radiation treatment. Healthy carbs, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit, are rich in essential nutrients, antioxidants and dietary fiber. Avoid refined and sugary carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice, chips, biscuits and baked goods, which cause your blood sugar levels to spike and lead to fatigue. These carbs can damage how your body uses insulin, the hormone that helps to balance blood-sugar levels. According to the journal "CA," sugary foods may also increase your risk for certain cancers.
Reduce Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of radiation therapy and other cancer medications. These conditions can lead to a loss of appetite and harmful weight loss. Stanford Medicine recommends choosing foods that are easy to digest and help soothe an upset stomach. These include toast, pretzels, yogurt, oatmeal, noodles, baked chicken, and soft or canned fruit. You can also reduce nausea by sticking to clear liquids, such as broth, clear carbonated beverages, apple juice, plain gelatin, tea, water and ice chips.
The American Cancer Society recommends eating small meals every two to three hours to keep your energy up and stave off nausea. Make each meal filling and nutrient-dense by adding protein powder to your food, smoothies and milkshakes. Cook, steam, blend or puree firmer foods to make them easier to chew and swallow. Consult your doctor or nutritionist if you cannot control your nausea and vomiting or have difficulty eating.
- Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery: Predictors of Weight Loss During Radiation Therapy
- CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians: Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: An American Cancer Society Guide for Informed Choices
- American Cancer Society: Eating Right Can Help You Get Through Cancer Treatment
- Stanford Medicine: Radiation Therapy