Good nutrition is important for everyone, but especially so for those battling aggressive cancers like mesothelioma. If you are living with mesothelioma and going through treatment, your body is changing. The cancer and its treatments can cause you to lose muscle mass and weight, which can make your battle even more difficult.
In addition to maintaining good nutrition and a healthy weight to keep your overall health good and to allow you to better tolerate treatment, you can also benefit from certain types of foods. Eating more foods with certain types of nutrients may boost the immune system or promote healing, while avoiding certain foods will help combat inflammation and improve overall energy.
Why Nutrition is Important for Cancer Patients
Patients with mesothelioma or any other type of cancer should pay special attention to nutrition for a variety of reasons. A healthy diet helps a patient maintain optimal health, which makes cancer treatment more effective and more tolerable. Getting adequate nutrition helps patients avoid losing weight and important body tissue and avoid or prevent getting infections. Good nutrition is also important for helping patients avoid or find some relief from the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment, improving quality of life. Being well nourished may actually improve a cancer patient’s odds of survival and overall prognosis.
What is Good Nutrition?
Good nutrition means eating a balanced diet that provides an adequate intake of calories for a healthy weight, the right balance of macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, good amounts of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, and also avoiding foods that are harmful. Most people need to eat a good mix of lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates, or whole grains.
Good nutrition for a cancer patient is not always exactly the same as for someone who is healthy. Depending on the type, cancer may impact how the body digests and uses nutrients from food. For instance, someone with peritoneal mesothelioma may have a large abdominal tumor that affects the release of nutrients into the bloodstream. Most types of treatment for cancer also impact nutrition, often because the side effects make it difficult to eat. Chemotherapy, for example, causes mouth sores making eating painful.
Foods that Promote Cancer
Good nutrition is about eating the right foods, but also avoiding others. For anyone, including cancer patients, it is important to avoid or restrict foods that are known to contain carcinogens, compounds known to cause cancer, and foods that promote inflammation in the body. These foods have the opposite effect of healing foods and can make a cancer patient feel worse or heal more slowly.
Some examples of carcinogens in food include compounds called HCAs, which are found in the charring on meet that is grilled or overcooked and nitrites and nitrates, which are used as preservatives in some meats, especially deli meats. Researchers have found a correlation between red meat consumption and higher cancer risks, so limiting meat is often recommended for anyone.
Foods that cause inflammation are also best avoided. Low-grade, chronic inflammation in the body has been linked to cancer risk and is most often associated with being overweight or obese. Foods that promote or trigger inflammation in the body include refined carbohydrates—white breads and pastas, sugar—fried foods, red meat, soda, margarine, and saturated fats.
Foods that Heal
On the other end of the spectrum are foods that promote healing and combat inflammation and other factors that may promote cancer growth. This group includes most fruits and vegetables, but especially dark, leafy greens, tomatoes, and berries. Also important are healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, most nuts, like almonds and walnuts, and fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, and sardines.
Diet Tips to Combat Specific Side Effects
A healthy diet that avoids carcinogens and inflammatory foods and includes plenty of healing foods is important for everyone. For cancer patients, though, a healthy diet often means taking specific factors into consideration, particularly the side effects of treatment strategies and the nutritional deficits that these treatments may cause. Here are some examples of common complaints mesothelioma patients have that dietary strategies can help manage:
* Dry mouth. Sweet foods can actually help with dry mouth, like popsicles or sweet drinks. Also helpful is eating foods along with sauce or gravy or pureeing foods to make swallowing easier.
* Diarrhea. Foods that are lower in fiber and fat can help combat diarrhea. Also important in balancing nutrition is to increase fluid and sodium and potassium intake.
* Constipation. On the flip side, combatting constipation means eating more fiber. Warm drinks also help.
* Mouth sores or sore throat. It is difficult to eat with mouth and throat soreness, so being careful to get enough nutrition is important. Nutritional shakes may help, as can avoiding spicy, hot, acidic foods.
* Nausea and vomiting. With nausea it is important to stick with bland foods and foods that don’t have strong odors and to avoid fatty and greasy foods.
* Changes in taste and smell. This side effect also makes eating challenging. Trying different foods helps, until you find something that is appealing. It also helps to use lemonade or ginger ale to rinse the mouth of the characteristic bitter flavor.
* Fatigue. Include lots of fluids, as hydration exacerbates fatigue. Stabilize blood sugar levels by including protein, fat, and fiber in every meal or snack. Good choices include nuts with fruit or cottage cheese with fruit.
Working with an Oncology Dietician
Because nutrition is such an important part of healing, feeling well, and battling mesothelioma, it makes sense to work with a professional. A dietician is a health professional that has trained and learned all about food, nutrition, and the body. An oncology dietician is a professional with additional training and experience with nutrition, diet, and cancer patients. Check with your medical center or medical team to find out if there is a dietician on staff.
This expert can help you figure out what you should be eating every day, which takes the stress of making those choices out of your hands. An oncology dietician can do more than plan your diet; this professional can also help you choose the specific foods that will have specific effects. Your dietician can help you choose foods for mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy, for instance, or to help you better respond to treatments, to reduce fatigue, or to minimize pain.
Good nutrition is so important to overall health and wellness, but for the patient living with mesothelioma, it takes on a new level of importance. If you are battling this or another type of cancer, you can use food to aid your treatment, improve your ability to heal and recover, and to general enjoy a better quality of life. If you feel lost when trying to decide what and how to eat, rely on the professional guidance of a licensed and experienced dietician.