4 Ways to Prevent Malnutrition in Cancer Patients
If you aren’t a cancer patient, do you eat the recommended daily amounts of vegetables, proteins, fruits and dairy? Do you take a vitamin? Do you enjoy fatty foods or sugary desserts? Answering these questions in a way that implies you’re unhealthy is very likely, and it’s hard enough to someone without cancer to stick to a nutritional, healthy diet.
Now imagine a cancer patient going through chemotherapy and trying to eat a nutritious diet. This comes alongside nausea, a loss of appetite and abnormal tastebud sensations. Getting some cancer patients to eat at all is a miracle, let alone well rounded meals.
Keeping a cancer patient fed isn’t just about nutrition value, either. Treatments like chemotherapy can zap a person’s energy, and cancer patients tend to lose weight while going through treatment. Their family members often find that they don’t eat as much as they used to or that eating at all is disinteresting to them. Anorexia nervosa is actually more common in cancer patients than you think, simply because they become used to not eating and then mentally can’t eat even when they do feel better.
Nutrition meals can help a cancer patient stay as energized as possible. If they aren’t eating as much as they used to, what they do eat has to be packed with nutrients that give them energy and the vitamins they need to function, as well as stabilize their weight. It’s also important to know that cancer patients that develop malnutrition may be denied continued treatment until they are healthy enough to receive it.
If you or a loved one are going through eating difficulties due to cancer, here are four different ways to prevent malnutrition.
1. Nutrient shakes and supplements
While some consider this to be a last ditch effort, sometimes something is better than nothing. When cancer patients are going through chemotherapy, their inability or lack of desire to eat can lead to drastic weight loss. This is unhealthy for anyone, let alone someone who is going through a war within themselves.
Doctors will often ask that a patient drink nutrient shakes in order to keep weight on and provide the body with nutrition it desperately needs. This doesn’t mean that cancer patients should start carbo-loading on protein powder formulas — certain brands are made specifically for weight maintenance and nutrient supplementing. These can come in the form of premade shakes, usually flavored in either chocolate or vanilla, or powders that can be put in other drinks, like water and milk.
2. Homemade shakes
For cancer patients, it’s often easier to drink than to eat. This can be because of issues with taste or because chewing and eating heavy meals requires too much energy output. Cancer patients also may suffer from dry mouth, so liquids can help lubricate their mouth and throat.
With juice and fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s easy enough to make nutritious shakes at home that contain vitamins and minerals cancer patients need to supplement absent parts of their diet. Much like vegetarians find protein sources outside of meat and dairy, specific fruits, vegetables and lentils can be substituted for these harder to eat and digest foods.
3. Vitamin supplements
It’s absolutely important that a cancer patient eat as often as they can while avoiding excess. However, if a cancer patient refuses to eat, it’s equally important that they at least take a vitamin or other non-food supplement to give their body what it needs.
Even if a patient is eating regularly, a vitamin can help fill in gaps in their diet that may occur due to taste changes or energy. This is especially important for cancer patients that lose their appetite for meat — either a substitute must be found or a vitamin needs to be included in their diet plan in order to give them the iron and zinc their body needs.
For some patients, having cancer is like having a completely different taste palette. Their radiation or chemotherapy has a strong effect on their tastebuds, making them go a little haywire. Some begin craving foods they used to hate, while others find they can’t bear to eat foods they used to love.
This can lead to a variety of dietary issues, especially when healthy foods are completely disgusting according to their new palette. In order to keep a cancer patient as nutritionally stable as possible, try to find substitutions for the foods they used to love. If they don’t like one food, try something else. Find foods that they do like or that they are willing to eat in order to keep their diet stable.
Above all, remember to always consult with a doctor before making any major dietary changes. They will know the best ways to keep a cancer patient healthy, and a nutritionist may be consulted in order to find the best course of action.