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A Healthy Diet Guide to Recovery during Chemo

Updated on December 22, 2014

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Chemotherapy and a Balanced Diet

A balanced, healthy diet helps recovery from the effects of chemotherapy.

My nutritionist after cancer, Dr. Francesco Steiner (of the Spes-Alfa association in Rome, Italy) explains that the key to successful recovery from chemotherapy is a diet of healthy foods.

(Dr Franceso Steiner who provided all the information in this article, collaborates with Dr. Anna D'Eugenio with Komen Italia - which specializes in patients who have breast tumors.)

This article describes -

  • What foods to eat during chemotherapy
  • What to avoid,
  • What to drink and
  • How much to drink
  • What the 'nutritional elements' are to help quickly recoup the liver and the kidney functions which are being battered by the toxins of chemotherapy.

When a patient is having chemotherapy treatments for cancer, or cancer prevention, a balanced healthy diet containing lots of antioxidants in small regular portions "does protect from the damage of chemo, while continuously helping our cells work to recoup physiologically" says Dr Francesco Steiner.

I certainly made myself as strong as possible through the treatments by following his suggestions every day. I was often weak and tired and didn't feel like eating - or cooking, or shopping, or spending so much money on the proper foods. But I did. And every time I finished a meal I felt 'better'.

The following information is useful if we are to be well.


What is an Antioxidant?

An antioxidant is a molecule inhibitor of oxidation.

Oxidation can produce 'free radicals', which can cause damage to cells.

Antioxidants stop this damage by acting as reducing agents.

Which Diet Foods?

There are lots of antioxidants In Mediterranean diet foods which make it such a healthy diet; whole grain cereals (whole wheat, farrow), the pulses (beans and chick peas), fruits and vegetables, onion, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, protein and wheat germ seeds. The antioxidants in these natural, seasonal foods protect us from damage due to the environment as well as help the continuous working of our cells.

"Because this is the case we have to be careful where the foods come from, making sure that they have not been treated with preservatives", insists Steiner.

Foods treated with 'additives' are not as healthy as they need to be because they are substances deprived of nutritional values. We need the nutrition that is in our foods, for our well being and for our life!

So look for the organic or biological product that is in season and spend money on it - because it will heal. A healthy diet helps recovery from chemotherapy. Buy dried beans and good bread and rice as well as white meat (like chicken or veal) and buy the fruits of the season and fresh organic greens. Health has to come first, for without it, well, it doesn't bear thinking about.

How Much Does a Nutritionist Cost?

Unfortunately a nutritionist is not 'covered' by any public health plans and so the cost of their consultation will have to come out of your pocket, but your nutritionist in these dark days are worth it. Life and a good quality of life are worth making financial sacrifices for, or not?

A nutritionist costs between $50- $150 dollars for a consultation.

We paid a little more in Rome, in Italy, but my doctor followed up without further charge (by email after we spoke on the phone when I needed to speak to him, or after he'd read the blood test results, after each chemo session). He gave a tailor made menu each day for the duration of my chemotherapy.

Each nutritionist will offer different services, so have a look around. Ask your oncologist who he would recommend.


What Are the Guidelines to a Healthy Diet?

During chemo there isn't one-diet -fits-all. Each person's diet needs to be personalized by a nutritionist but some guidelines are useful for everyone.

Foods and drinks to avoid:

  • Liquid foods such as soups, broths and minestrone
  • All sweet things
  • Gassy drinks and sweet sodas
  • Cheese
  • Strong tasting foods
  • Strong herby flavor foods

Importantly:

  • Avoid eating large meals,
  • Avoid fasting


Biological Fruit

Biologically grown oranges.  great to taste, good for you but not pretty to look at, naturally!
Biologically grown oranges. great to taste, good for you but not pretty to look at, naturally! | Source

Recovery from Chemo Diet

1. In this healthy diet guide to recovery from chemotherapy, it's important to eat small meals, regularly - at breakfast, lunch and dinner and not to eat just one type of food. (Eating just an apple for a meal is not going to be very helpful. Eating pasta with cheese sauce every day is not either).

Here follows an example of my daily diet. Everyone's diet will be different based on weight and type of cancer and factors I'm not competent to go into -

Breakfast was usually 70 grams of toasted bread, butter and marmalade and a caffe latte. (Bread is always toasted on chemo).

Lunch was 130 grams of protein (white meat, fish or egg), 70 grams of carbohydrates (either pasta or rice or bruschetta), two vegetables prepared in different ways (raw or cooked or both) and a fruit.

Dinner was made up of the same quantities of each type of food, but the protein would be different, as were be the vegetables and the fruit.

2. Choose bitter tasting foods such as chicory or endive as often as possible because they help to clear out one's system, or slightly hot foods such as chili and capers.

3. Acid fruits and vegetables are a very important daily food too, such as lemons and tomatoes and vinegar because they help us to digest easier and reduce the nausea that is so often present.

4. It's important to drink - but not too much, so smaller quantities of, say, water with squeezed lemon juice, or green tea, or a mild herb tea such as chamomile during the day, through the day, is ideal.

Diet is - and remains - the physiological instrument of recovery because taken on board properly it helps quickly improve the detoxifying functions of the liver and the kidney (of the toxins of chemo).

Dr Steiner says that "the most suitable foods and the suggested ways that these foods are cooked are chosen according to the type of response the patient is having to the toxicity of the chemotherapy and will always be different (based on the different kinds of drugs that are being used)."

Chicory Bitter Tasting Food is Best for Clearing the System

Chicory, picked fresh is full of antioxidants.
Chicory, picked fresh is full of antioxidants. | Source

When you Have Nausea

A truly helpful tip! Worth a try before taking the meds.

When feeling nauseous after chemo, put a little sugar on a half a lemon and put it in your mouth and suck on it.

Most of the nausea will probably pass quite quickly.


Nutritional Foods

The fundamental rule of thumb for a correct nutrition and a healthy diet is to give the body 'nutritional-elements' that can help the repairing processes to recuperate the liver and the kidneys as quickly as possible. These are the organs, which minute by minute, hour by hour, every day of our lives, work to get the toxins out of our bodies.

Eating a varied diet with a little protein always present, with fruits and with vegetables, using only seasonal biological foods to avoid 'additives' is the way to do this.

Dr Franceso Steiner who provided all the information in this article, collaborates with Dr. Anna D'Eugenio with Komen Italia - which specializes in patients who have breast tumors.

© 2012 Penelope Hart

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    • awordlover profile image

      awordlover 

      4 years ago

      This is a very informative hub for anyone going through chemo or taking care of someone going through chemo. Voted up and shared.

      Rachael

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      I think the lemon and sugar for nausea probably does, yes.

      There's more to a regularly nutritious diet than chicory! But I understand what you mean.

      Thanks so much for commenting. Hopefully not everyone will try the lobster and beer diet on chemo; variety is the name of the game.

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 

      5 years ago from USA

      I could sure go for lobster easier than chicory! I never heard of the lemon and sugar for nausea - I wonder if that works for nausea from other stuff, too.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Not sure beer, lobster and butter are an absolutely ideal diet on chemo, but here you are and I'm grateful to you for your wonderful comment. May you stay well for many, many more decades!

    • bankscottage profile image

      bankscottage 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Goodlady, you are correct about eating strong, spicy food and carbonated beverages when undergoing chemotherapy. About 14 years ago I had chemo and radiation. While I wasn't nauseated, I had no appetite and lost a lot of weight. Nothing tasted good. I drank a lot of Diet Coke at that time, but had to stop. The carbonation made me sick. We were living in Maine at the time and I found I could tolerate and enjoy lobster. Lobster and butter, the taste was on the bland side but provided protein, omega-3 oils, and fat for calories and nutrition. I picked up some extra calories from beer (not as much carbonation). It probably wasn't the healthiest diet, but my wife was happy I was eating. And, I'm still here 14 years later to write about it.

      Great Hub with a lot of good information.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks. Nutrition is so helpful for recovery. It's about time it was a more popular thought around chemo.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Interesting info here. I recently read an article about a local dietician who is starting to work with cancer patients to help them recover from chemo. Glad you are doing well now.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you RT.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Such good information is important. I'm so glad to see this posted. Helpful treatment isn't worth much if the body isn't nourished for its future. I'm happy to read that you are doing so well!

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you Alicia, I am absolutely fine thanks. It is important information which I hope many people come across. A nutritionist will help immensely with physical recovery and I can't imagine why oncologists don't always recommend them.

      A proper diet, based on nutrition needs, really helps the body be strong during and after the treatments. There is life after chemo so it's best to be up for it!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is interesting and important information, GoodLady. Thank you for sharing the advice. I'm sorry that you had to go through chemotherapy but I'm glad that things are going better now.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Best to eat freshly prepared foods that keep their freshness, quickly cooked is best. (Chemo is such a bashing, the liquids would not hold.) Thank you for your vote and sharing! So pleased you found it useful too.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      6 years ago from UK

      Useful and fantastic. I would have automatically thought soup was good, just because it's such a "convalescing" kind of food - but it is actually to be avoided. Voted up and shared.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      In fact we aren't hungry during treatment so we don't want to eat but a nutritionist helps so much. I did what he said and after eating those good well balanced meals 3 times daily I felt better each time. I'm sure it wasn't that good a few years ago. Glad you are well. Thanks for good comment.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I had my last chemo treatment over 20 years ago and your hub would have come in so helpful back then. It never occurred to me to go to a nutritionist. I do remember though that small meals sat much better than large ones and this was easy as I really didn't have much of an appetite.

      Very useful hub!

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Faceless39. Thanks for votes and rate! Lets hope they find the Hub too because eating with the guidance of a good nutritionist is really going to help them get well, really well, sooner.

      chrissie. Hope your friend finds their nutritionist to help them through. It's so important! Glad you found this. Thanks fo commenting.

    • chrissieklinger profile image

      chrissieklinger 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Awesome hub, I have a friend who could really use this information.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Kate P 

      6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      I've know a few people who have gone through chemo, and I've read that eating well (alkaline-producing foods like lemons, etc.) can prevent (and treat) cancer.

      Your list of what to eat (and what not to eat) is super important, and I hope people who need this information come across this hub.

      Rated up, useful, and interesting.

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