The Benefits of Eating Nutrient-Dense Foods During Your Radiation Therapy

Eating healthy, Pittsburgh nutrition

By Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology

Side effects from radiation therapy can vary among cancer patients. You may occasionally feel nauseous or that you’ve lost your appetite. Other side effects that may interfere with eating include: 

  • Sore throat
  • Dysphagia or trouble swallowing
  • Sore and dry mouth 
  • Vomiting
  • Loss or a new sense of smell or taste
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating and flatulence

These side effects are the aftermath of killing tumor cells. And a nutrient-rich diet is vital during your therapy so that your body is replenished with the fuel and building blocks for healthy cells that it needs. 

Food Requirements for Cancer Patients Are Different

What those around think of as the standard “healthy” diet may not be what your body needs while in treatment. Your recommended diet plan may require you to consume calories and protein in larger amounts than you’re used to. The extra calories and protein help you maintain or regain strength and energy, aid your tissue regeneration and boost your immune system. 

Nutritional Guidelines 

When creating an eating plan for patients in treatment, the main goal is to meet your (increased) nutritional requirements while maintaining a healthy weight. With the exception of increased calorie and protein intake, the key here is a well-balanced diet and healthy eating habits. Applying both principles will give you a better chance to manage the side effects of radiotherapy. 

Calories and Proteins

When selecting calorie-dense and protein-rich food sources, stick to whole grains and fresh options. Good sources of protein and energy (calories) are:

  • Whole milk
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Meat (preferably lean)
  • Fish
  • Peas and beans

Soft Food or Liquid Diet

If you’re having trouble swallowing, pair your meals with soups or sauces. Chew your food well. If eating solid foods is nearly impossible, switch to soft foods or a liquid diet. Adding protein powder or drinking energy-filled smoothies through a straw are also workable options to help satisfy your calorie and protein requirements. 

Fruits and Veggies

Your well-balanced eating plan during treatment wouldn’t be complete without fruits and veggies. Leafy greens and a variety of colored fruits are excellent sources of antioxidants. Steaming or blending is a convenient way to incorporate plant-based foods in soft or liquid meals. In the event of digestive issues, limit your fiber intake and avoid the fruits and veggies that can give you gas.

Eating Habits To Keep In Mind

  • Instead of eating three hearty meals, eat smaller portions at more frequent intervals (6 to 8 times a day)
  • Stay hydrated; aim for 2 liters of water, at least, per day 
  • Have extra snacks on hand if you’re outside the house
  • Avoid processed meats, refined carbohydrates, greasy and spicy foods
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