Eating to prepare for cancer treatment

Healthy mix of fruit, vegetables, meat and pulses

Good nutrition is important in all aspects of general health, especially when preparing for cancer treatment. It is important to eat a range of different foods, in the right balance, to ensure your body is getting everything it needs. This is also important to help prevent your body becoming malnourished.

Good nutrition is important in all aspects of general health, especially when preparing for cancer treatment. It is important to eat a range of different foods, in the right balance, to ensure your body is getting everything it needs. This is also important to help prevent your body becoming malnourished.

Healthy mix of fruit, vegetables, meat and pulses

Malnutrition is a condition caused by the lack of key nutrients. It can cause you to lose weight and become weak, tired, have difficulty fighting infections or completing planned cancer treatments.

Following a diagnosis of cancer, you may have lost weight or have difficulty eating and drinking. This can be due to anxiety and worry, difficulty swallowing, a reduced appetite, or a change in the way your body digests your food and drink. It is important to prevent any unplanned weight loss and maintain a good nourishing diet.

Through following a nutritious diet, you can:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight.
  2. Protect muscle and strength.
  3. Reduce the side effects of treatment.
  4. Promote physical resilience to complete planned treatment.

The more you can do now to improve your diet, the more reserves your body will have for your upcoming treatment and to continue your usual activities.

What dietary advice should I follow?

Steps to better nutrition

If you are underweight, are losing weight or have a poor appetite here are some helpful hints to consider:

  1. Have high calorie/protein snacks between 3 meals a day such as: nuts, yoghurts, cheese and crackers, toast with butter and jam, crumpets, full fat milk, hot chocolate, milkshakes and smoothies.
  2. Switch ‘low fat’ options to ‘full fat’.
  3. Include protein options such as meat, fish, milk, cheese, tofu, eggs, beans and nuts.
  4. Try enriching your foods – the video below can show you how.
  5. Drink fluids after your meals to avoid filling up before or during.

Sometimes it is hard to think of nutritious meals off the top of your head.

Follow this link for inspiration and ideas.

For vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan ideas for enriching your diet milk, cheese, butter, meat and fish can be exchanged for alternatives. Examples include:

  • Nut, oat or soya milk and yoghurts
  • Olive/sesame/coconut oil can be added to pastas, salads and used in cooking
  • Quorn©, tofu or soya meat products
  • Lentils/pulses can be added to soups and stews
  • Peanut/nut butters, jams, golden/maple syrup can be added to bread, cereal, puddings. 

You may find that your Diabetes is harder to manage following a cancer diagnosis. This could be due to the diagnosis itself, new medications, cancer treatment, stress or anxiety.

The advice on this page can be applied to your diet if you have Diabetes; Try to limit the use of jam/sugar and honey and opt for cream/cheese and butter instead to add extra nourishment to your food if required.

While preparing for treatment it is important to manage your blood sugar levels and to continue to engage with your healthcare team and Diabetes nurse.

For more information on managing Type 2 Diabetes click here

If you have Type 1 Diabetes and are concerned about how this will be impacted during treatment you should contact your Diabetes nurse or dietitian.

It is recommended for men to have 2000ml fluid per day and women to have 1600ml per day. This equals approximately 8 glasses of fluid per day. Tea and coffee (choose decaffeinated where possible), low fat/sugar drinks and milk all count. Alcohol should not be counted towards your daily fluid intake. Smoothies and fruit juices should be moderated for teeth health and Diabetes management.

Signs of dehydration include loss of concentration, dizziness, headaches, problems with kidney function and urinary tract problems.

There are many sources of information and personal experiences shared via social media, which has led to a variety of diet ‘recommendations’ that claim to beat or eradicate cancer. Many of these diets can be restrictive and have minimal scientific evidence to support them. This means there have not been enough studies to show that they work.

It can be confusing to know where to find accurate information, if you have any questions about alternative diets for cancer you should ask your healthcare team or your dietitian.

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