Mesothelioma treatment can be a physical challenge. Focus on your nutrition needs before, during and after treatment to feel your best and promote healing.
A mesothelioma cancer diagnosis may bring with it friends and family members offering well-intended nutrition advice. This is natural because food represents love, nurturing and connecting with others.
However, most people don’t understand the complexities of nutrition needs before, during and after mesothelioma treatment. Their advice may not be right for you or meet your current needs.
What works for one person with cancer may be inappropriate for someone else fighting the disease. Some people with cancer gain weight, while others experience serious malnutrition.
What you need to eat can change over time. For example, if you’re receiving mesothelioma chemotherapy in cycles, you may need to eat for symptom management part of the time and recovery in between treatment cycles.
The key to harnessing the healing power of nutrition is to consider what your body needs at each part of your cancer journey.
Think about nutrition needs corresponding with three unique stages of your cancer journey:
Before treatment: Prepare your body for treatment
During treatment: Manage symptoms and improve your ability to recover
After treatment: Fuel your recovery
Keeping the focus on each of these goals during the appropriate time frame can enhance your well-being and support healing.
Many people already have lost weight by the time they receive a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Cancer can increase the amount of protein and calories required to meet the body’s basic nutrition needs. If these needs are not met, it can lead to unintentional weight loss.
Even if you are overweight, losing weight without trying is not helpful. Cancer creates inflammation, and this prevents the body from using fat for fuel.
Instead, a person ends up losing the muscle, organs, blood and immune cells making up lean tissue. This is why losing weight unintentionally can be so harmful, even if you have “room to spare.”
Mesothelioma treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, administered alone or in various combinations.
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.
Before treatment, balance your plate: Cover half with healthy protein foods and the other half with a combination of healthy calorie options and fruits and vegetables.
Mesothelioma and its treatment may cause a variety of side effects. These symptoms can diminish the ability to eat well and worsen unintentional weight loss that may have occurred prior to diagnosis.
Proper nutrition is a critical component of mesothelioma treatment. The right nutrients are fuel for healing, maintaining immunity and rebuilding the body.
The healthy options you ate before treatment are a good place to start, but calories trump type of food at this time. Be flexible and add in other foods as needed to keep the calories coming into your body.
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.
It may be easier to manage multiple mini-meals and snacks — just a few bites at a time, every 60 to 90 minutes — than large meals. 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.
Once your mesothelioma symptoms and side effects have diminished and you are getting back to a more normal eating pattern, it’s time to fuel your recovery. Eating now is similar to before treatment, with a few additional 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 majority of 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.
Suzanne Dixon is a registered dietitian, epidemiologist and experienced medical writer. She has volunteered with the National Cancer Policy Forum, Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Society for Clinical Oncology, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The New York Times and Time Magazine also have reviewed her cancer patient resources. Read More