Tips for Eating Right During Lung Cancer Treatment
Last updated: May 2023
What to Know About Nutrition and Lung Cancer Treatment
There is a lot to consider when going through lung cancer treatment, and sometimes healthy eating can go by the wayside. However, eating healthy foods helps you stay stronger and feel better, and proper nutrition is especially important during lung cancer treatment.
"Good nutrition is critical for managing cancer and cancer treatment," said Vandana Sheth, certified diabetes educator (CDE), registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The goal of eating right is to help keep you strong and nourished, to successfully manage your cancer treatment, prevent muscle and bone loss, help you fight infection, allow your body to recover and heal, and see an overall improvement in quality of life."
During lung cancer treatment, you may experience side effects that disrupt your digestive system, or it might seem like you are eating enough but your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, Sheth said. Treatments can also make it painful to swallow, change your blood sugar levels, make you feel nauseous, or cause certain foods to taste unappealing.
Here are a few simple tips to help you address these side effects:
If you have a small appetite:
"Try eating small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day instead of three big meals," Sheth said. You can schedule reminders to eat regularly. To make the most of your small meals and snacks, choose nutrient dense foods. For example, instead of having toast with butter, go for toast with peanut butter or cottage cheese. Keep ready-to-eat options on hand, such as trail mix with dried fruit and nuts or a parfait with low-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola. Supplemental beverages are quick and easy as well. "You can even make your own version at home with protein powder to cut back on cost," Sheth said.
If you experience nausea:
Sheth recommends eating cold foods, reducing your fat intake, and steering clear of foods with strong odors.
"Avoid eating your favorite food when feeling nauseated as this may turn you off it," she said.
If you feel fatigued/exhausted:
"Try to rest when you can, move and get physically active when able," Sheth said. She also suggests asking for help with shopping and meal prep, getting adequate sleep and rest, and staying hydrated.
If you have trouble swallowing:
Talk to your doctor about prescription or over the counter medication that can ease the pain in your mouth or throat. Stick to high-caloric liquids like smoothies. Stay away from spicy foods or foods with a lot of acid. Each person's nutritional needs during lung cancer are different, and sometimes finding the right diet that delivers proper nutrition is a trial-and-error process. Along with your doctor, a nutrition expert can help you find a plan that works for you.
"Consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for a full assessment and evaluation before you start treatment," Sheth said. "An RDN can provide a customized plan that includes overall calorie and protein goals. They can also monitor you throughout your treatment and after to ensure adequate [nutrition] and help you cope with side effects."
What healthy habits do you use to improve the quality of your life?