What might you experience ?

When you have cancer there are so many reasons why you may be finding it hard to eat and achieving a healthy balanced diet can seem like an impossible aim. That’s why we’ve written this guide, to show you that it is possible to eat well and keep up a healthy diet and when you do you’ll realise just what a difference eating well makes to your overall health and well being.

This guide will cover

  • Lack of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Taste changes

  • Mouth problems

  • Meal planning

Why does this happen?

  • Lack of appetite -  Changes in appetite are very common amongst people with cancer. It can mean that you don’t eat as much, or get full after eating only a small amount, or you just don’t feel hungry at all. Not getting enough calories and nutrients can lead to weight loss and muscle loss. The term used to describe this is cachexia

  • Nausea and vomiting -  Almost every patient on chemotherapy is likely to be affected by nausea and vomiting. The impact this can have on individuals varies and although there are many anti-sickness medications your doctor can prescribe, most people will still find it interferes with their ability to eat well

  • Taste Changes -  You may notice that food no longer tastes the same, that it’s bland or that you have a strange metallic taste after eating certain foods, especially meat. This can.mean you no longer enjoy the foods you used to like before you developed cancer. 50% of people on chemotherapy will be affected by taste changes and it can last upto 1 month after treatment stops. Other causes for taste changes are usually due to damage to the taste buds either from radiotherapy to the area or from the tumour itself

  • Mouth problems -  The cells forming the lining of your mouth and throat, your mucosal epithelium, have a fast turnover  meaning they are susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy. This is why you get mouth sores, ulcers, swelling and pain known as mucositis. If the mucositis is severe eating food can become extremely difficult

  • Meal planning -  Considering all the above and the added complication of a busy schedule of hospital visits, finding the time or motivation to cook can be hard. Even if you do want to cook, knowing which foods to choose and how best to prepare them can be another barrier to overcome in making sure you eat well   

What can you do about it?

If you're struggling with a loss of appetite

If you're struggling with a loss of appetite

Even if you don't feel like eating there are a few ways to help you reach your daily requirements of energy and nutrients to prevent weight loss and help maintain your body's health.

  • Meal replacements:  For some eating a full meal three times a day just isn’t possible and a meal replacement can be an effective way of meeting their daily nutritional requirement. They can also be used to boost your calorific intake if you are having problems with weight loss

  • Energy bars:  Great for on the go energy boosts. Keep them in the car, in your bag and at home so that when you do feel hungry you’ve got one to hand.There are so many to choose from so finding one you like and enjoy eating shouldn’t be too hard

  • Vitamins and Minerals:  If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough micronutrients in your diet then supplements may be an option. But before taking any vitamins and minerals please speak to your doctor to avoid taking anything that may not be suitable for you

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If you're feeling sick

If you're feeling sick

As well as the anti-sickness medications your doctor will give you, there are a few more tried and tested ways of helping overcome your nausea so that you can enjoy eating well.

  • Anti-nausea wrist bands:  These bands use the principles of acupressure to relieve the symptoms of nausea caused by chemotherapy. This is a tried and tested method with evidence from scientific studies confirming that nausea can be reduced when used in conjunction with anti-sickness medications  

  • Ginger products:  Another scientifically proven method of reducing nausea and sickness that doesn’t involve taking more drugs. You can take advantage of the benefits of ginger by drinking it as a tea, cooking with it or enjoy eating it as a sweet

  • Non-medicated anti-sickness remedies:  These range from aromatherapy oils for inhalation to sweets containing special blends of natural products to help ease the queasy sensation caused by your cancer or it’s treatment
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If you're struggling with a change in taste

If you're struggling with a change in taste

Try experimenting with new ingredients and different recipes to find foods that taste good whilst you wait for your taste changes to pass. As for that metallic taste, there are a few ways of dealing with that too.   

  • Bamboo cutlery:  If you suffer from a metallic taste when you eat then using bamboo cutlery can help overcome this, allowing you to enjoy eating your meal without an unpleasant after-taste

  • Hard boiled sweets:  Sucking on hard boiled sweets such as strong mints or lemon bonbons before or after a meal can help distract your taste buds from the metallic taste experienced by up to 78% of people with cancer

  • Cookbooks:  If you’re struggling to find foods with enough flavour and taste then try using recipes with new ingredients or use a cookbook specifically written for people with cancer. If you suffer from a metallic taste it might also help to try using plant based proteins instead of red meat

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If your mouth troubles are stopping you eat

If your mouth troubles are stopping you eat

Avoiding mucositis and managing it early will be crucial to helping you have a pain free mouth so that you can eat comfortably.

  • Protective gels:  At the first sign of mouth trouble try using protective gels to prevent your mouth getting worse. These will help create a protective coating to soothe and help heal the lining of your mouth

  • Mouthwash:  There are two types of mouthwashes that will help you keep eating. Cleansing mouthwashes will help keep your mouth clean thereby reducing the risk of infection and inflammation. Whilst medicated mouthwashes which contain a numbing agent will help ease the pain associated with mucositis

  • Oral hygiene:  Maintaining good dental hygiene will reduce your risk of infection and dental problems such as abscesses or infected oral ulcers all of which affect your ability to eat food

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If you're looking for ways to help you eat well

If you're looking for ways to help you eat well

No matter how busy your schedule is or how experienced you are in the kitchen, there are many ways to help you cook delicious, healthy meals hassle free

  • Blenders and juicers:  Try using blenders instead of chopping vegetables when you make soup to save time and help create a smoother consistency which can be easier to eat than chunky soups. Juicers are great for making smoothies and fresh juices useful for healthy snacks or breakfast on the go and a a quick way of getting some of your 5 a day

  • Cookbooks:  If you’re looking for inspiration there are plenty of books out there to help you conjure up something exciting and nutritious to eat. Even if you’re pressed for time there are plenty of cook books with easy to follow, simple recipes that don’t take long to prepare so that you can eat well and feel well

  • Weekly fruit and veg boxes:  These are the perfect solution to help you eat a healthy and varied diet without the need to plan ahead for meals. Saving you time and removing the need for a trip to the supermarket. Fresh ingredients are dropped off at your doorstep, all you have to do is cook them
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