University of Missouri

When You’re Battling Cancer, Food is Medicine

If you're not eating well, you're missing an important piece of medicine
When You’re Battling Cancer, Food is Medicine

Food can be frustrating for many undergoing cancer treatment. Your tastes change and maybe you’ve lost your desire to eat altogether. We tend to think of food as something for enjoyment and pleasure, but the fact is: we need it to survive.

“When you don’t get the nourishment you need, your body suffers,” said Ellis Fischel clinical dietitian Elizabeth Freeman. To help patients understand the importance of food and nutrition, Freeman encourages them to think of food as medicine. “If you’re not eating well, you’re missing an important piece of medicine,” Freeman said. “You don’t love medicine or infusions, but you know your body needs them to get better. We need to think about food the same way.”

Eating right means you’re more likely to feel better, maintain your energy, lower your risk of infection and recover faster. When you don’t get proper nutrition, treatment can be delayed, or even cancelled; reducing your chance of cure.

The best way to get the nutrition you need is to keep hydrated and have a healthy balance and variety of foods from each food group. If eating meals three times per day doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. “When you don’t feel like eating a lot at one time, eat small, frequent, meals and snacks,” Freeman said. She also suggests keeping quick and easy snacks nearby at all times. “Having things like yogurt, pudding, granola bars or supplemental drinks nearby will remind and encourage you to eat and drink throughout the day.” Freeman said to plan ahead and know what food, drinks and supplements you’ll need to take with you.

Finally, if you have food needs, never hesitate to tell someone. Your friends and family want to know how they can best help you. Don’t feel like an inconvenience if you need to tell them there are certain foods you can do well with, and some you can’t tolerate.

If you think you would benefit from talking with a clinical dietician, talk to your doctor about setting up a consult.