There are some basic guidelines for what to eat to support the body and immune system as they recover from the necessary damage that occurs through chemo therapy. Each type of chemo has been conceived to combat a specific type of cancer, and so specific nutritional deficiencies can occur with each variation of chemotherapy. Therefore the chemo recovery diet needs to be tailored specifically to the type of chemo undertaken.
Vitamin deficiencies of B1, B2, K, D, folic acid, niacin and thymine are common, but invariably depend on the therapy. Your doctor won’t necessarily give you recommendations for a diet regime, but do ask about the name of your chemotherapy and do some research about the common deficiencies it can cause. For example, if one becomes deficient in folate, it is important to add beans, grains and green vegetables to the diet. If this is of specific concern to you or someone you know, it can be handy to meet with a qualified dietician who can help outline a recovery diet. Note: a dietician is qualified in human nutrition, however a qualified nutritionist does not necessarily have a dietetics qualification and so cannot recommend a diet regarding clinical and medical nutrition.
Some basic steps to follow are as follows:
- Small, frequent meals: many dieticians will recommend that you eat several small meals a day rather than just eating large serves of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Varied diet: The diet should also be varied and full of cooked wholefoods rather than cheap convenience or processed foods.
- Stay hydrated: As during chemotherapy, it is important to stay hydrated. It’s still a good idea to keep drinking tea, particularly herbal tea and to avoid going too heavy on sweet, carbonated drinks, juices, coffee and to try and avoid alcohol.
- Cleansing foods: The liver and kidneys will be combating the effects of chemotherapy and the residual toxins in the body, so cleansing food and drink that helps detoxify the body are recommended.
- Avoid listeria prone foods: as with during therapy, food which can contain the listeria bacteria should be avoided for as long as possible as the body has been weakened and cannot fight these everyday bacteria. Try not to eat raw fish, sushi, pre-prepared salads and sandwiches from shops, soft cheese, deli meats, unpasteurised dairy, raw or rare meat, undercooked eggs, raw vegetables unless the outer has been carefully removed and washed, fruits that have not been peeled and soft serve ice cream
- Choose food high in antioxidants: while there are no definitive for or against results regarding antioxidant supplements, there has been a lot of argument for antioxidants decreasing the risk of some cancers. Foods high in antioxidants include various types of beans, stone fruit and berries. Stone fruit should be skinned and berries should be cooked.
- Avoid eating foods with a lot of trans-fats; such as fried foods and battered foods.
- Reduce the amount of red meat consumed and opt for smaller portions of white meat and fish
- A good time to discover new foods: if the above recommendations the diet during chemo therapy have been a significant departure from regular diet and favourite foods, this can be a great time for a cancer patient to discover some new foods, cooking methods and cultural cuisines.
Our friend Rachel Rule recommends discovering delicious food that inspires you to eat well. Everyone’s tastes and needs are different, and while some people may need to avoid spices and herbs, other people love, and thrive off such flavours.
Rachel loved “peanut butter and fresh berries – my favourite breakfast coming out the other side of treatment, peanut butter on a slice of toast, topped with fresh berries, banana and some honey. Zesty salads; I really liked a grilled chicken breast with a sweetcorn, pearl barley, avocado and tomato salad with a zest dressing. Turkish food; the meals of grilled meat on a skewer (not the shaved stuff), salad, rice and some nice bread really hit the spot. It’s light enough to handle, not fatty and it tastes great.”
To maximise the benefits of a healthy diet, we do recommend meeting with a dietician. A series of appointments with a dietician could be a wonderful and actually useful gift for someone who has just completed a round of chemotherapy. If you plan on doing this, do discuss it with your friend or family member first and state that you would like to gift it to them.
If you would like to learn more about Rachel Rule and read more of her wonderfully honest and brilliant writing, you can find her blog here:
Thanks also to Sophie Moon for her warm provision of advice as she cares for her mother who is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
Blessings to you and your family.