The Best Nutrition for Cancer Patients

Nutritional support for cancer patients is more crucial than many of us realize. In fact, an estimated 20 to 40 percent of cancer patients die from malnutrition-related causes.

In some ways, that is unfortunately not surprising, given the side effects that usually occur with chemotherapy or radiation. But, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), even just a 5 percent weight loss in a month can decrease a patient’s tolerance for treatment, or can alter their treatment plan.

Sharon Day, a Registered Dietician (RD) and CTCA’s National Director of Nutrition has five tips for helping caregivers make sure their patients get the best possible nutrition:  

Cook with Superfoods to add flavor and beneficial phytochemicals. For example, tomatoes, nuts, berries, Greek yogurt and even dark chocolate.

Try herbs and spices that add flavor and offer other benefits during cancer treatment like ginger, turmeric, chile peppers, garlic and onion.

Go for high-calorie, high-protein foods. Many foods in this category can have nutritional benefits for patients. They also add flavor and texture to make food appealing.  Think avocado, refried beans and nuts.

Eat local and organic food within your budget. Locally grown, organic diets are often more flavorful because these foods are allowed to ripen naturally and are fresher.

If a patient is fatigued, drinking calories may be easier than eating full meals. Try smoothies made with milk (soy, rice, almond, or low-fat dairy), bananas and peanut butter, or a mixture of frozen berries, yogurt and milk.

Most importantly, work with a registered dietitian so you can get an accurate number of calorie and protein goals.  Dietitians can be crafty; delivering individualized meal plans that emphasize nutrient dense foods, taste great and supply adequate calories and protein to support patients undergoing cancer therapies.


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