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A Healthy Nutritional Diet During Lung Cancer Treatment

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide involving genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. The treatment can cause a burden of healing that can overwhelm even a healthy patient’s nutritional reserve. Amongst all, nutritional factors are of utmost importance including diet, alcohol intake, body weight, and physical activity.

Fatigue (tiredness), pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) are some of the common symptoms patients can experience during treatment, which can impact nutritional intake. When food intake is not adequate, there is an increased risk of developing malnutrition. Many patients with lung cancer lose weight during treatment, sometimes more than 10% of the usual body weight that is often associated with loss of muscle mass.

Each time a patient undergoes cancer treatment that is surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy – the body responds to the treatment with healing. The healing course needs specific nutrients, extra calories, and additional protein.

Nutrition therapy

Since malnutrition and loss of weight are very common among lung cancer patients, it becomes imperative to provide good nutrition. Though there is no special diet or supplement that can cure or treat lung cancer, good nutrition can support your body during treatment. Given below are few tips that can help you during lung cancer treatment.

Maintaining a healthy weight / Minimizing weight loss: Taking sufficient calories to meet the increased requirements would help in maintaining your healthy body weight. Make your meals calorie-dense by adding milk or cream or coconut milk to gravies, snack on nuts and dried fruits, eat larger meals when your appetite is good and eat small meals and snacks throughout the day. A frequent meal pattern with thick soups, fruit juices, fruit milkshakes, smoothies, and yogurts took in-between the major meals is recommended. Speak to your nutritionist to understand the different calorie-rich foods and incorporate them into your diet.

High Protein Diet: A high protein diet will help in maintaining lean body mass, wound healing, and building immunity. Proteins are the building blocks for your muscles and immunity. Protein-rich foods include lean meat, eggs, milk, curds, yogurt, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, and dals. It is recommended to incorporate proteins in every meal and not just one meal, eg. have a scrambled or boiled egg every day with breakfast, dal and curd for lunch, chicken stew or soup with dinner, a handful of nuts as an evening snack.

Managing loss of appetite and fatigue: Eat small portions of your favorite foods every 4 hours to meet the nutritional goals. Food preferences can change because of the treatment, so include a variety of foods that you are tolerating. When appetite is very poor, oral nutritional supplements might be advised. Keep nutritious snacks such as roasted nuts, dried fruits, roasted lentils, cheese cubes handy especially on days when appetite is very low. Be active and regular exercise as recommended by your doctor. This has been shown to boost your metabolism and manage fatigue.

Balanced Diet: Eating healthy food containing various nutrients is helpful in preventing the human body from diseases. Including fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables in the daily food, routine builds a strong immune system. Fill half your plate with plant-based foods, fruits, and vegetables. These are high in fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and certain micronutrients that will help your body to cope with the treatment.

Grains and Healthy Fats: Whole grains and millets are recommended over simple sugars and refined foods. Locally available millets like foxtail millets, barnyard millets, finger millets are rich in nutrients and fiber. Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial during cancer treatment because of their anti-inflammatory properties. Olive and canola oils, fortified vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, and avocados contain healthy fats that can be taken into the diet.

Coping with lung cancer

Patients sometimes feel immune-compromised, depending on the type of treatment. At times the white blood cell counts are affected causing a high risk for foodborne illness. Treatment side-effects are based on the individual and therefore you don’t need to entirely modify your diet if you don’t experience side effects of poor appetite, fatigue, and nausea. Focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Many patients are often stressed and depressed while undergoing cancer treatment. It is highly advisable to constantly update the doctor about the health conditions and keep in touch with the team to make the journey easier.

Dr. Esther Sathiaraj, Head- Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, HCG Cancer Hospital Bengaluru

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