Optimizing Nutrition for Chemotherapy Patients: 5 Dietary Tips to Support Your Immune System

According to research, chemotherapy can cause side effects that may adversely impact a patient’s health. Some of these side effects include nausea, vomiting, low white blood cell count, and anemia. In severe cases, chemotherapy may even have to be terminated due to low white blood cell count and low platelets.

Fortunately, dietary adjustments can help patients cope with the side effects of chemotherapy and improve their tolerance to the treatment. Below are five dietary recommendations that can aid in this process:

Consume More High-Quality Protein Foods

A study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition found that a high-protein diet can improve immune function and reduce the risk of infection in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The study suggests that consuming adequate amounts of high-quality protein is essential to maintaining immune function and muscle mass in cancer patients during treatment.

For example, one cup of low-fat milk contains approximately 8 grams of high-quality protein, while a 3-ounce serving of lean meat contains around 21 grams of protein. Soy products, such as tofu and edamame, are also excellent sources of high-quality protein and can be a suitable option for vegetarians or individuals who are lactose intolerant.

Consume More Foods Rich in Calcium

A systematic review published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer found that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are at an increased risk of developing bone loss and osteoporosis. Consuming more calcium-rich foods can help mitigate this risk and improve bone health.

A cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium, which is almost one-third of the recommended daily intake for adults. Other calcium-rich foods include broccoli, kale, sardines, and canned salmon with bones.

Consume More Iron-Rich Foods

A study published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer found that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often experience anemia, which can lead to fatigue and reduced quality of life. Consuming more iron-rich foods can help combat anemia and improve overall health.

3-ounce serving of beef liver contains approximately 5 milligrams of iron, while a 3-ounce serving of cooked clams contains around 23 milligrams of iron. Plant-based sources of iron include beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals.

Consume More Foods Rich in Zinc

A systematic review published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies found that zinc supplementation can improve the immune response in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Zinc can also help reduce the severity of taste changes and improve appetite.

Fruit like a medium-sized pear contains approximately 0.2 milligrams of zinc, while a 1-ounce serving of peanuts contains around 0.9 milligrams of zinc. Shellfish, such as oysters and crab, are also excellent sources of zinc.

Consume More Vitamin B Group Foods

A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that vitamin B12 supplementation can help improve chemotherapy-related fatigue and depression. Additionally, consuming foods rich in B vitamins can help improve energy levels and overall health.

Sweet potato is rich in this vitamin. A medium-sized sweet potato contains approximately 0.6 milligrams of vitamin B6, while a cup of cooked broccoli contains around 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B1. Other sources of B vitamins include whole grains, eggs, and dairy products.

Consuming a well-balanced diet that includes high-quality protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B can help cancer patients better tolerate chemotherapy and improve their overall health. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant dietary changes, as some cancer treatments may have specific dietary restrictions or interactions.

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