From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

August 10, 2023

Eating a balanced diet is essential for maintaining health and energy each day.  When your body is in a state of healing, it can be even more important to take special care of your body through diet.  However, OHC’s advanced practice provider, Laura Weldishofer states, “Nutrition is probably one of the biggest things that’s often overlooked.”

Depending on the area of your body that is being treated, radiation therapy can interrupt your normal diet.  Side effects such as fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite can make eating anything a chore, let alone healthy foods.

Choosing healthy foods can be difficult.  Learning the types of foods to select, how they help us, and which food groups to avoid can help you prepare to eat healthy during your treatments.  Before your diagnosis, you probably encountered at least one of the fad diets that have circulated in the past, such as Keto, Atkins, South Beach Diet, or other popular eating trends.  All of these diets focus on limiting one type of food over the other.  But in reality, Ms. Weldisofer says “don’t focus on trying to eliminate one part of your diet.  Instead try to eat a well-rounded healthy diet, unless you’ve been given instructions to avoid certain foods.”

There are significant benefits to eating healthy during treatment, which include feeling better, having more energy, and recovering faster.  Food is fuel and getting even small increments of healthy food is going to be a large boost in the right direction.  Not consuming enough nutrients, whether you’re healthy or not, can lead to malnutrition and muscle loss, which delays healing and impacts outcomes.

What are the healthy foods you should be eating?  Below we’ve listed the 3 main categories of foods to focus on as well as a few examples of what those categories include.  These lists are not exhaustive but should give you a good idea when deciding WHAT to eat.

Proteins Are Essential

Proteins help repair body tissues, assist with blood clotting, maintain muscle mass and strength, keep the immune system strong, and act as an energy source.  We see that protein is one of the foods that are often overlooked while patients try to maintain high calorie counts.  However, they play a vital role in your recovery and overall health, so try to include a protein source in every meal or snack.

Protein-rich foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts or nut butter
  • Lean meats such as fish or poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Soy

Don’t Ignore Healthy Fats

While you may hear a lot about cutting fats from your diet, the best diets include healthy fats or unsaturated fats.  Healthy fats are another source of energy and can help your body fight inflammation, as well as repair and replace injured tissue.

Healthy fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Flax
  • Avocados

Carbohydrates Are Energy

Don’t ignore carbohydrates, but don’t overload on them either.  Carbs are a fast-acting and easily accessible energy source, but too many can make you feel wiped out.  People think of carbs as junk food sometimes, but there are smart ways to eat carbs and they are a needed part of a healthy diet.  Carbs provide the body with fiber and additional vitamins and minerals needed for both physical AND mental health.

Carb examples include:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Vegetables

Keep Your Immune System In Mind

It’s possible your immune system may become compromised during radiation treatment.  It’s important that if this happens, you avoid foods that carry the risk of foodborne illness.

Foods at risk:

  • Raw eggs, fish, or meats
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables

Enlisting a trusted member of your support system to help you pick out good options for each of these categories will help you prep your pantry for making quick and easy-to-grab meals or snacks.  In the next blog, we’ll go over some tips for HOW to incorporate these healthy foods into your diet effectively.

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