Published On: Tue, Dec 19th, 2017

How to navigate holiday eating when you have cancer

Family gatherings, office parties and lots and lots of food. The holidays are in full swing and, once again, food and drink seem to be the focus of every event. If you're coping with cancer during the winter holidays, navigating unpredictable meal times, rich main courses and sugary desserts can be especially challenging.

christmasfoodMIAMI - The experts at Miami Cancer Institute have some strategies that can help you through these celebrations — even if your stomach is sensitive, your taste buds are betraying you or you simply aren't hungry.

"First, remember that it's the holidays, and while your goal is to provide your body with the nutrients that will best help you heal, realize that you may get a little off-track with your eating plan," said registered dietitian Carla Araya, a clinical nutrition specialist with Miami Cancer Institute. "You are physically and emotionally going through a lot. Don't be too hard on yourself."

That said, she recommends that you:

  • Eat small snacks often, not letting your stomach remain empty too long because that can lead to nausea.
  • Go for protein-rich foods. If you have an aversion to meat, poultry or fish, try egg-based meals or spread almond or peanut butter on bread, crackers or fruit.
  • Sip ginger tea, hot cider with nutmeg or bland soups if you feel nauseous.
  • Use plastic utensils, warm foods in glass containers and add lemon juice or vinegar to veggies to help eliminate any metallic taste you may experience.
  • Try mashed potatoes, yogurt and casseroles, or add broth, sauce or gravy to moisten and soften foods if you have lesions in your mouth and/or if it is painful to swallow. Avoiding citrus and acidic foods may also help.
  • Steer clear of raw, undercooked and non-pasteurized foods.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol or talk to your doctor about whether a drink is appropriate considering your specific treatment.
  • Wash hands frequently and if eating from a buffet, choose foods closer to the center because little hands tend to go for items at the edge of the table.

Contrary to what you might think, seeking your favorite food when you aren't feeling well may not be the best decision. "Your favorite food may not make you feel better. And there's a chance that in the future you'll have a bad association with that food," Ms. Araya said.

If you're a cancer survivor, the focus during the holidays shifts from managing symptoms to eating to fight and prevent cancer. That means staying away from processed foods and eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on a plant-based diet.

"Because many cancers are linked to obesity, you want to maintain a healthy weight," Ms. Araya said. "Add plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, such as ginger and turmeric."

Whether you're going through cancer treatment or you're years out from your diagnosis, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly. How much exercise depends upon your energy level and the recommendation of your doctor.

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