It's not unusual for cancer patients to experience a loss of appetite. Causes include:
- Treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation
- Medical conditions, such as fever, pneumonia or shortness of breath
- Side effects of certain medications
- Sadness or depression
Below are some things you could try to be sure to avoid malnutrition.
- Eat small, more frequent meals. Use an alarm clock or TV commercial break to remind yourself to eat.
- Take advantage of times when you’re naturally hungriest, such as first thing in the morning.
- Do light exercises to stimulate your appetite.
- Keep ready-to-eat foods on hand at home and with you on the go.
- Drink nutritional shakes, such as Ensure or Carnation Instant Breakfast.
- Limit fried and greasy foods. They can be difficult to digest and make you feel full quickly.
- If you aren’t able to stimulate your appetite, talk to your physician. You may be prescribed an appetite stimulant.
Taste and smell changes
Patients who are receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy may experience changes in taste and smell, which can make eating difficult. Below are some tips to help make food more appetizing.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Use fruits or herbs to flavor water. Consider trying decaffeinated herbal teas or ginger ale.
- Take care of your mouth. Brush your teeth and tongue after every meal. Rinse with a solution of ¼ teaspoon baking soda in 4 ounces of water before eating.
- Sorbet (lemon or lime) or frozen fresh fruits (grapes, melons or oranges) can help cleanse your palate before eating.
- Try sugar-free gum, peppermints or lemon drops.
- If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, use plastic utensils and avoid canned foods.
- Marinade and cook meat in sweet juices, sauces, fruits, acidic dressings or wines.
- Include other protein sources in your diet, such as fish, eggs, beans, nuts, milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, peanut butter and protein powders.
- If foods taste salty or bitter, increase sweet tastes by adding honey, agave, maple syrup and jam to foods.
- If foods taste too sweet, increase salty or tart flavors by adding citrus fruits, vinegar or pickled foods.
- Try seasonings you don’t normally eat.
- To decrease food smells, eat foods cold or at room temperature. Try soups in a covered container and sipping it with a straw. Avoid rooms where food is being cooked.
While there are no foods that can kill cancer cells, the foods you eat during cancer treatment can have a big impact. Changes to your diet can ease side effects or help your body stay strong and healthy during treatment.
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