By Julie LG Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN
Wellness Director at Cancer Services, Inc.
A high percentage of lung cancer patients are malnourished. Unintentional weight loss may have been one of the symptoms that prompted you to go to the doctor. Malnutrition has a significant impact on your ability to tolerate treatment as well as your quality of life during treatment.
The American Institute of Cancer Research suggests the following related to nutrition and lung cancer:
For those currently in treatment for lung cancer, adding calories by doubling or tripling fruit intake might offer important extra benefits in maintaining body weight and improving well-being as the possible effects on lung cancer prognosis are being assessed.
Having cancer and receiving treatment tends to increase the number of calories needed each day to maintain your body weight. It can be a challenging to keep up with the increased need for calories, especially if you are dealing with symptoms and side effects such as nausea, shortness of breath, mouth sores, altered taste, and/or decreased appetite.
Unintentional weight loss occurs when your body is not getting sufficient calories to keep up with energy demands. In addition, many lung cancer patients experience shortness of breath, chronic coughing and mucus build-up, which may affect ability or desire to eat. The result can be weight loss, malnutrition and significant fatigue.
Good nutrition habits during treatment can help prevent malnutrition related to your treatment. Some experts suggest appetite stimulants, eating more frequent, high-calorie meals or drinking oral supplements. Use the following tips to make sure that you provide your body with adequate calories for healing.
Getting enough calories to avoid unwanted weight loss:
Calories and protein are important during treatment because they provide the building blocks for restoring normal tissues that have been injured as a side effect of therapy. Proteins are also essential for healing after surgery.
Here are some tips to make sure that you get enough calories and protein, even when you don’t feel like eating:
- Eat early in the day. Your appetite is usually greatest at the beginning of the day. Take advantage of your appetite by making breakfast your largest meal of the day.
- Eat something every 2 – 3 hours. It is often easier to eat several small meals throughout the day rather than three large meals. Small meals can be less overwhelming than large meals and often result in consuming more food over the day than you would with larger meals.
- Eat calorie-rich foods. Most of us are used to limiting the amount of high-calorie foods we eat. When you are losing weight, this limitation no longer applies. Try to be sure everything you eat or drink supplies your body with both calories and nutrients. You can add calories to your normal meals by adding gravies, using cooking oils liberally, substituting heavy cream for milk or water in recipes, and spreading oil or butter on bread and rolls or melting it over vegetables.
- Try liquid or pureed meals. Liquid meals may be easier and more appealing than solid foods if you are struggling to eat. Use a blender to make milk shakes and frozen fruit drinks. The protein content of these drinks can be greatly increased by adding dry milk powder. Ready-to-drink, high-calorie protein beverages (Boost Plus®, Ensure Plus®, Resource Plus®, ProSure®, Sustacal Plus®, and others) can be a good source of calories and nutrition. These drinks come in many different flavors. You can drink them plain, over ice, or blended with fruit or ice cream.
- Plan your own meals. You know better than anyone else does what foods appeal to you. Many people receiving cancer treatment find their tastes and food preferences are different than they had been in the past. Eat whatever you are hungry for now. If others want to help by preparing meals for you, be sure to ask for foods you want to eat!
- Limit the amount of low-calorie liquids you drink at mealtime. Limit the amount you drink with meals to increase the amount of high-calorie foods you consume. Sip on a high-calorie beverage after your meal or as a between meal snack.
- Try some light exercise before meals. Exercise increases your appetite. Talk with your doctor or oncology dietitian about doing some light exercise such as walking or gentle calisthenics before meals.
- Take snacks with you when you are away from home. It is important to eat whenever you are hungry, regardless of where you are. Examples of high-calorie, nutritious snacks you may want to take with you when you’re going to be away from home for several hours include trail mix, granola bars, dried fruits, nuts, and nutrition or energy bars.
The best way to know if you are getting enough calories and protein is to weigh yourself weekly. Also, remember to make sure you are providing your body with adequate fluids. If you lose more than 3 pounds in one week, it’s probably due to fluid loss. If your weight continues to drop from week to week, try to increase your calories until you start to maintain.
By working to provide your body with adequate nutrition during your treatment, you will optimize your bodies healing potential, minimize the side effects of treatment and improve your quality of life.
For information on a healthy diet for lung cancer survivorship and prevention, click HERE.
Julie is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition. She currently serves as Wellness Director at Cancer Services, Inc in Winston-Salem and authors a cancer nutrition blog at www.cancerdietitian.com. She is available to provide education programs to your group. To schedule a program or speaking engagement, call 336.760.9983 or email Julie.Lanford@CancerServicesOnline.org.