How an Oncology Nutritionist Can Help Your Body Fight Cancer

Nutrition and Cancer
Print icon

Nutrition is an essential part of health and shouldn’t be neglected when going through cancer treatment.

MaryBeth Dahlstrom-Green, an oncology nutritionist with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital, said the often rigorous treatment required to fight cancer can leave patients physically and emotionally depleted. That’s where she comes in, meeting with them to understand their needs and help them take in the nutrients that will help their body fight.

“Most patients I see are undergoing radiation and that has challenges that impact what they eat, which impacts their overall health,” she said, adding that the treatment often causes issues such as nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, poor appetite, problems swallowing and taste changes. “I try to talk about strategies for managing those problems so they can stay as healthy as possible during treatment. The goal is to help them maintain a good energy level, promote healing, prevent infection and prevent significant weight loss.”

Tips include:

  • For a metallic flavor in the mouth, typically a result of chemotherapy, Dahlstrom-Green said it’s “all about balancing the flavors.” She suggests marinating foods in an acid balanced with sweetness, such as teriyaki or barbecue sauce.
  • If everything tastes “blah,” she urges patients to try adding a dash of lemon juice or sea salt to brighten flavors.
  • Mouth care is important to avoid sores and thrush, so she suggests avoiding toothpaste containing peroxide and rinses with alcohol. Also, sour-tasting foods such as lemon increase saliva production, making it easier to swallow.
  • Nausea can be combated by scheduling smaller, more frequent meals so the stomach never gets too empty. Dahlstrom-Green also tells patients there is evidence that ginger helps calm the stomach and can be taken in tea or chew form.
  • If a cancer patient suffers from diarrhea, Dahlstrom-Green emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated. She suggests increasing the intake of anything that is liquid at room temperature – tea, seltzer, Jell-O, soup and ice cream. The daily goal is roughly eight to 10 cups a day. She will also suggest a lower-fiber diet and trying a soluble fiber product like Metamucil.
  • Increasing calorie intake is the goal for patients at risk of malnutrition during treatment. Green introduces them to supplements like Boost or Ensure, or suggests simple strategies such as adding butter to the morning oatmeal or putting a piece of cheese or avocado on a sandwich.
  • A diet based on whole, real foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and plant-based fats can provide optimal nutrition quality and give the body the tools it needs for energy and healing.

“Excessive weight loss can be avoided for most people during treatment with early interventions. The priority is maintaining good nutrition status so they can feel as well and have the best outcome as possible,” she said. “I tell patients they need to nourish themselves.”

Dahlstrom-Green regularly hosts a nutrition class for cancer patients to address common concerns, encouraging patients to share tips that have worked for them. She also likes to address misinformation patients might get on the Internet or through the media – topics such as is soy bad for breast cancer, does sugar feed cancer or whether organic food is better.

“My goal is to take the fear out of food choices and to promote well-being during their cancer journey,” Green said. “So many people are terrified they are eating the ‘wrong’ foods and are getting information from non-evidence-based sources.”

All Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute locations offer nutrition resources for patients. To find out more, click here.

 


What's New

Stroke

When it Comes to a Stroke, Think F.A.S.T.

By Dr. Timothy Parsons Chief of Neurology, Hospital of Central Connecticut If you or a loved one had a stroke, would you know what to do? May is Stroke Awareness Month and it’s a good time to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatments for stroke. The more you...

Stroke

When it comes to a stroke, think F.A.S.T.

By Dr. Timothy Parsons If you or a loved one had a stroke, would you know what to do? May is Stroke Awareness Month and it’s a good time to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatments for stroke. The more you know, the faster you can respond, and...


Volunteer at the Travelers

Volunteer at the Travelers Championship! Hartford HealthCare has been a key participant of the Travelers Championship for the last 11 years and is the official sponsor of the Travelers Championship volunteers at Connecticut’s largest sporting event that attracts over 4,000 volunteers. As in the past, HHC employees are invited to...


Connecticut Medicine Devotes Issue to Opioid Crisis

With opioid overdose the leading cause of death in Connecticut since 2013 for people under 50 years old, what is the medical community doing to fight this public health crisis? In a special edition of Connecticut Medicine called “Finding Hope in the Battle against the Opioid Overdose Crisis,” guest editors...

Cancer Recovery and Physical Activiity

The Importance of Physical Activity in Cancer Survivorship

By Gretchin Bade Program Director of Oncology Hartford Hospital Rehabilitation Network At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared to survivors who are inactive. Exercise also has...

Colorectal Cancer

Rebuilding Your Life After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

Dr. Gerard Fumo Physician Lead, Hartford HealthCare Gastrointestinal Disease Management Team Colorectal cancer, a potentially lethal disease, is one of the most preventable cancers because doctors can remove precancerous growths during a colonoscopy. In part, because of the advances in screening, which leads to detection and removal of early cancers,...