One of the main concerns among many patients going through treatment for cancer is weight loss. The inability to keep weight on often contributes a great deal of anxiety to an already stressful situation. Side effects of radiation or chemotherapy treatment such as nausea, sore mouth and throat, stomach cramps, and taste changes can all decrease one’s desire to eat. But there are things you can do to help combat this situation.
Protein and Cancer
From the Greek meaning, ‘of primary importance’, protein is one of the most essential nutrients you want to ensure you are getting enough of during your treatment. Protein is comprised of Amino Acids (some essential, some non-essential) and, among other things, is responsible for the building of our muscles, regulation of our hormones, and used to build, maintain, and repair our cells. These amino acids are a combination of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Additionally, protein contains nitrogen (something not found in the other macronutrients – carbohydrates and fats.
Unfortunately, cancer cells change how our body metabolizes protein so that more amino acids are available for tumor growth. When we are sick or recovering from surgery, our need for the essential amino acids increases because the protein is needed to repair the damage done to our cells. This can lead to a loss of muscle tissue caused by a nitrogen imbalance. What this basically means is that the tissue in the body is breaking down faster than it can be replaced. Proper protein intake is key to correcting this condition.
What to Eat
There are several things you can do to correct your protein deficiency and combat weight loss. First, the bulk of your diet should come from plant-based proteins, followed by those containing good Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) such as cold-water fish. The added benefit of plant proteins is that they come with a wide array of cancer-fighting antioxidants specifically designed to combat cancer. Some of the best sources include all the cruciferous family of vegetables such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and broccoli.
If possible, consider doubling your protein intake to help rebuild your GI track and aid in the production of new white blood cells. You can do this by combining Whey protein, ground flax seed and fruit and combining these into a shake you have a couple of times a day.
To help stimulate your appetite, drink ginger or peppermint tea or take a zinc supplement. Zinc will also help with the loss of smell that might occur during treatment. While we’re on the topic of supplements, try Glutamine. It is an amino acid studied for its ability to help stabilize weight loss and repair the GI track.
There are additional things to keep in mind when you are going through any type of cancer treatment. Below are some general guidelines to follow if you are experiencing loss of appetite:
Appetite is usually best first thing in the morning, so should be largest meal
Eat six small meals a day instead of 3 large ones
Eat whenever you are hungry. Don’t stick to the clock
Keep cooking odors to a minimum and try using coconut oil to cook with. It is easily digestible, as well as anti-microbial
Liquid meals are often more appealing than solid so supplement with shakes
Skinless poultry should make the smallest contribution to your amino acid since it often tastes “wrong” from effects of chemo and radiation
About the Author:
Patricia Dean-Escoto is a certified nutrition consultant and breast cancer survivor. Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she earned her master’s degree in Education from Capella University. She has more than 20 years of experience working in both the field of education and healthcare. In 2006, after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, Patricia returned to school to study nutrition. She is a graduate of Bauman College, where she earned her certification as a Nutrition Consultant. Recently, she hosted a year-long radio show called Pathways to Healing on the Voice America network where she interviewed experts in the field of health and wellness. She is a Raw Foods chef and author of ‘The Top Ten Superfoods for Preventing Breast Cancer’. Patricia is also a Certified Cancer Physical Trainer. Her company, Pathways2healing, works exclusively with cancer patients in the area of nutrition and exercise. She lectures both locally and nationally on the topic of nutrition and cancer prevention. She and her husband currently reside in Delaware.