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Mesothelioma patients should be concerned about nutrition because your body has different nutritional needs at each part of your cancer journey.
The three phases of your cancer journey and their individual nutritional goals are:
- Preparing your body before treatment
- Managing symptoms and improving your ability to recover during treatment
- Fueling your body for a speedy recovery after treatment
Keeping the focus on each of these goals during the appropriate time frame can enhance your well-being and support healing.
Eating the Right Foods Before Treatment
Many people already have lost weight because of the cancer by the time they receive a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Losing weight without trying can lead the body to consume muscle, organs, blood and immune cells for energy, which is why unplanned weight loss can be so harmful.
To prepare your body for the challenges before mesothelioma treatment, focus on:
- Healthy Calories: Avocados, peanut butter, other nuts and nut butters, olive oil, dried fruit, potatoes and sweet potatoes, squash, whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa), oily fish (e.g., salmon, sardines and anchovies) and fruit smoothies.
- Healthy Protein: Lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, milk, whey protein powder-based smoothies and whole eggs.
- Vegetables and Fruit: Spinach, kale, other green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, oranges, bananas and any other colorful whole food you enjoy.
Balance your plate before treatment. Cover one half with healthy protein foods and the other half with a combination of healthy, high-calorie options and fruits and vegetables.
Nutrition During Treatment
Mesothelioma and its treatment may cause a variety of dietary side effects. These symptoms diminish the ability to eat well. This can worsen unintentional weight loss that may have occurred prior to diagnosis.
Proper nutrition is a critical component of mesothelioma treatment. The right nutrients provide fuel for healing, maintaining immunity and rebuilding the body.
A 2022 clinical research study showed the importance of mesothelioma patients to maintain skeletal muscle mass. Mesothelioma patients who maintained muscle mass had a greater chance of survival after 12 months compared to those who had increased sedentary time and lower rates of light activity.
The healthy options you ate before treatment are a good place to start, but calories are more important than type of food at this time.
Be flexible and add other foods as needed to keep calories coming into your body.
Tips to make the most of every bite and sip:
- Drink high-calories liquids such as whole fat milk, 100 percent fruit juice and smoothies made with whey protein powder and milk.
- Add cheese and cooked meats to omelets, sandwiches, soups, salads and casseroles.
- Increase protein in milk by blending one packet of dry milk powder into one quart of whole milk.
- Try a plant-based milk with protein powder added if you are having trouble tolerating regular milk.
- Add powdered milk or plain whey protein powder to milkshakes, cream-based soups and mashed potatoes.
- Tailor each meal or snack to what appeals to you at that moment, regardless of time of day. Ask yourself, “Do I want salty or sweet?”
- Snack on cheese, nut butters or roasted nuts.
- Blend nut butters or ice cream into smoothies and milkshakes.
- Enjoy egg-based desserts such as cheesecake, custard and pudding.
Be ready to break your normal routines. Three meals a day doesn’t always work well to meet nutrition needs during treatment.
It may be easier to manage multiple small meals and snacks than three large meals. Try a few bites at a time every 60 to 90 minutes.
If meal times were your time to catch up on the day with family, create a new time for this.
Adapting to your new realities around food and meals will reduce stress and expectations for you to eat more than you can at any one time.
Maintaining Proper Nutrition After Treatment
Once your mesothelioma symptoms and side effects have diminished, it’s time to fuel your recovery. Eating at this phase reflects the same goals prior to treatment but with a few tweaks.
Focus on plenty of healthy protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and beans. Now you can shift to having about one-third of your plate covered by these foods instead of half.
Cover the other two-thirds of your plate with green leafy vegetables and other colorful vegetables and fruit.
The final bit of plate space should include healthy fats, oils and high-calorie foods such as avocados, nuts, starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes and squash), whole grains and olive oil.
If you are struggling to maintain your weight after treatment, replace some of the vegetables with healthy protein sources, fats and oils. As always, consult your doctor and dietitian with any changes in your diet.
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