Meal Plans for Cancer Patients

An older man in a hospital bed eating.
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Whether you are actively dealing with cancer or are currently in remission, eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help you feel better physically and mentally. Although your doctor will likely give you advice on healthy foods, understanding that proper nutrition can benefit your body as you fight your illness may make keep you motivated to plan healthy meals in advance. A meal plan for cancer patients should include foods from a variety of food groups.

Significance

Proper nutrition for cancer patients plays a role in your ability to handle treatments, surgery or other medical procedures, according to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. As you eat healthy foods, your body is better able to rebuild tissue. Good food also gives you energy and strength, which can help you both physically and mentally. The UMCCC indicates that in some cases, a properly nourished cancer patient may be able to tolerate more aggressive treatments than one who is not.

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Breakfast and Snacks

A balanced breakfast and two snacks can help you prepare for upcoming treatments, or give you energy for your day. Have a small cup of orange juice, a scrambled or pan-fried egg and a piece of whole-wheat toast for breakfast. If you have trouble swallowing, try a fruit and yogurt smoothie and a bowl of warm oatmeal. If you are nauseous, avoid greasy breakfast foods such as turkey sausage or bacon. Healthy snacks include cereal and milk, yogurt, 1/2 cup of canned fruit, 100 percent fruit ice pops, pudding made with skim milk or nuts. If you are most hungry early in the day, the National Cancer Institute recommends eating the majority of your calories when you are hungry to try and meet your nutritional needs.

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Lunch and Dinner

Soup is a filling, easy-to-eat food if you have a lack of appetite or find it difficult to chew and swallow thick meats or breads. Vegetable soups, chicken noodle soups or mild bean soups are good choices. Seafood, such as grilled or baked salmon, gives you necessary fats that can help your body with tissue repair. Chicken casseroles, baked turkey or tender pot roast offer you protein, which your body needs both during and after treatments. Other protein options include beans, which you can use as a main lunch or dinner dish, or vegetarian meat-substitutes such as soy burgers. Healthy side dishes include cooked or raw vegetables, whole-wheat bread, fruit, whole-wheat spaghetti or green salads. If you are losing weight, add calories from milkshakes, regular fat yogurt, salad dressings and cheese to your diet.

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Special Needs

If you suffer from certain types of cancer, such as leukemia, diet recommendations may include avoiding raw or undercooked foods, as well as unpasteurized dairy products due to a compromised immune system. You should also avoid eating foods at social situations because of the potential for bacterial contamination. Additionally, if you have diabetes, heart disease or cholesterol problems, your doctor or nutritionist will likely develop an individualized eating plan for you. A diabetic needs a diet to balance blood sugar, while those suffering from heart disease or cholesterol problems may need to follow low-fat, low-cholesterol diets.

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Related Reading

A healthy diet can't cure or treat lung cancer, but it may lower your risk of developing the disease and help manage your symptoms once you have it. Eating well can also improve the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments and guard against side effects, such as undesirable weight loss. Your dietary needs will probably change over time, according to the American Lung Association, so discuss your eating habits and related concerns with your doctor.

Colorful Fruits and Veggies

Antioxidants support your body's ability to fight and heal from disease. Low concentrations of certain antioxidants, including vitamins A and C, have been linked with an increased risk for lung cancer, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. When you have lung cancer, eating antioxidant-rich foods could help reduce symptoms. While most fruits and vegetables provide some amount of antioxidants, colorful varieties, such as tomatoes, berries, winter squash and bell peppers, are particularly rich. Fruits and vegetables also provide healthier sources of carbohydrates -- your body's main energy source -- than refined foods, such as candy and pastries.

Hearty Whole Grains

Whole grains provide carbohydrates and more nutrients, including antioxidants, than refined grains. In a study published in "Circulation" in 2008, the eating habits and instances of cancer, heart disease and death were analyzed in over 72,000 women for 18 years. Researchers found a strong link between a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and mortality. A typical Western diet, rich in refined grains and unhealthy fats, was linked with heightened risks. Eating more foods rich in B vitamins and iron, such as whole grains, and avoiding refined foods, such as white bread, may also reduce lung cancer symptoms. Replace white and wheat breads with 100 percent whole-grain equivalents, and choose brown rice over instant or white. When purchasing bread, cereals and pasta, make sure whole grains, such as whole wheat, quinoa or oats, are listed as main ingredients.

Nutritious Protein Sources

Eating enough protein makes some cancer treatments more effective. The UMMC recommends eating quality protein sources, such as organic eggs, meat, dairy products and vegetable protein shakes, as part of an eating plan aimed at increasing muscle mass in order to prevent wasting, which can result from lung cancer treatment. Limit protein sources high in saturated fat, such as fatty steaks and fried chicken, which can increase inflammation -- choosing lean red meats, skinless poultry and fish instead. The omega-3 fats in oily fish, such as salmon, lower inflammation. Other nutritious protein sources include yogurt, beans and lentils.

Plant-Derived Fats

Nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils provide valuable amounts of essential nutrients, including healthy fats. They also provide nutritious, calorie-dense options if your appetite is diminished, which commonly affects people with lung cancer tumors, reports the National Cancer Institute. Top sandwiches and crackers with avocado slices or nut butter for added nutrients and calories, and saute vegetables in olive oil. Avoid cooking oils at high temperatures, however, which can create carcinogens. Avocados are rich sources of fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants, including glutathione and vitamins C and E.

Low-Fiber, Bland Foods as Needed

The American Lung Association recommends bland foods as useful ways to meet your energy needs when eating enough is difficult. If you're experiencing nausea, abdominal pain or diarrhea, fiber-rich foods can make your symptoms worse. To minimize diarrhea, replace fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, beans, lentils and raspberries, with lower-fiber alternatives, such as white bread, saltines and pudding. Other mild-tasting, easily digestible foods include soup broth, plain scrambled eggs and cooked or canned fruits without the peel -- such as applesauce.

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