Eating well during treatment
May 14, 2020
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is more important than ever when you’re going through breast cancer treatment. It can help you cope better with side effects, boost energy levels and improve your quality of life. Yet, eating well when dealing with side effects – nausea, lack of appetite, or changes in taste – is easier said than done! We take a look at how to eat well while dealing with common side effects.
It’s understandable if you don’t feel like eating when you’re nauseous or struggling to keep anything down. But an empty stomach can trigger nausea, so try having small meals throughout the day, rather than going for hours without eating.
Nausea can be also triggered by rich, deep-fried or fatty foods, or food that smells. If you find certain smells trigger your nausea, ask someone else to do the cooking or order freshly cooked meals that you can enjoy without cooking. You may also want to keep the windows open while cooking to air out the area and get rid of any triggering smells.
Ginger can help reduce nausea or calm an upset stomach, and you can use it to flavour dishes or add it to herbal tea.
Lack of appetite
As with nausea, it can help to eat smaller portions more often if you don’t feel like eating. Try foods that are easier to eat, such as porridges, soups or smoothies. We also ‘eat with our eyes’, so tempt yourself into eating something by preparing food that looks good, such as colourful dishes with lots of variety. It can help to write down any cravings you have and focus on foods and flavours you like – this can make it more appetising.
Staying hydrated is important, but try to drink water after a meal or in-between meals, rather than with or before meals, so you don’t fill yourself up before you’ve had a chance to eat.
Changes in taste
Some people find that treatment affects their sense of taste or smell. It can help to keep your mouth fresh and clean if you’re experiencing this side effect. If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, try swapping metal cutlery for plastic or bamboo pieces. Tart foods or frozen fruit can help with taste changes, as can sour foods containing zinc and copper – think corn, beans, oats, eggs, peas and kale.
Diarrhoea or constipation
If you’re suffering from either of these side effects, it’s important to stay hydrated, whether that’s drinking water, juice or herbal teas. Probiotics, like kefir, kombucha or sauerkraut, can also help, as they feed the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, which can alleviate these side effects.
Try and keep up your intake of fruits and vegetables, but if you experience diarrhoea, aim for low-fibre types like melon, potato, carrot, banana and peeled apple or pears. For those with constipation, go the other way and add high-fibre foods into your diet, such as beans, lentils, chia and flaxseeds, leafy green veges and fruits like apples, pears, kiwifruits and prunes.
No matter what side effects treatment brings, remember to be kind to yourself! As with treatment, a healthy diet will look different for everyone, and it’s important to do what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Sites like Support Crew can help you set up a meal train, and our online community, mybc, is a good place to ask advice from those who have been in your shoes.
You can also watch our webinar, ‘Eating for wellbeing’, for more information on eating well during treatment. Thank you to Adeline Wong and Erika Motoie for the tips used in this article.