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Nutrition is an integral part of any cancer treatment plan. For mesothelioma and other cancer patients, eating foods that support energy levels, immune function, and overall health is crucial to getting through treatment as successfully as possible and for improving well-being. Figuring out which foods are right and which foods are wrong, however, can be a confusing and overwhelming process given the amount of conflicting information that circulates about diet and nutrition.

According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet and follow Harvard School of Public Health’s proposed healthy eating plate. In order to help boost energy during cancer treatment, prevent weight gain and manage treatment-induced symptoms, their general recommendations are as follows:

  • Include a variety of vegetables and fruits, both of which should make up half your plate.
  • Eat a wide array of whole grains, such as whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, etc. These should constitute for a quarter of your plate.
  • Avoid processed meats like bacon and cold cuts, and limit red meat and cheese as a source of protein. Instead, choose fish, poultry, beans, and nuts for the other quarter of your plate.
  • Limit butter and instead opt for healthier fat sources, such as olive and canola oil.

Remember to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, tea, or coffee, and limit milk to 1-2 servings per day. Enjoy no more than 1 small glass of juice a day and avoid sugary beverages.

Chemotherapy

Common symptoms of chemotherapy include weight and muscle loss. To help prevent these symptoms, Dana-Farber’s senior clinical nutritionist Stacy Kennedy recommends eating smaller meals that are nutrient and calorie-dense more frequently as opposed to three large meals. Prioritizing protein by including foods like hummus, nuts, lean meats, eggs, beans, and fish should also help support immune function and energy.

Radiation

Some side effects of radiation include lack of appetite and nausea. If side effects are experienced, supplementation to ensure adequate nutrition is most important. Because of this, including fortified foods may be a good and easy way to add to the nutrient bank. Patients may also benefit from including nutrient-rich smoothies and protein drinks, and choosing calorie-dense options over low-calories ones, like milk over water, and adding gravies and sour cream to foods.

Surgery

The main focus of a diet following cancer surgery is healing and replenishing calories and nutrients that will allow the body to recover. Eating the right foods can help reduce the risk of infection, speed healing and increase strength and energy.

To reduce the risk of postoperative constipation, include fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and oatmeal. Prioritize healthy proteins like lean meats to help your body heal and regenerate tissue. To lessen fatigue, eat enough of nutrient-dense carbohydrates and healthy fats. Above all, focus on fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.

Stem Cell Transplant

For stem cell transplant patients, it’s crucial to follow a set of special dietary guidelines for 100 days after in order to prevent infection. This diet is often referred to as a “liberalized low bacteria diet,” and aims to help patients avoid certain foods or preparation techniques that increase the risk of infection. Patients should avoid expired and raw foods (including raw fruits and vegetables), unpasteurized milks, juices, and ciders, raw honey, dried spices, and bakery foods. They should also wash hands and surfaces properly, and cook high risk foods like eggs and meat thoroughly.

Of course, before making any dietary changes, it is essential you speak to your doctor. Consult a registered dietitian (RD) so they can advise you on a diet plan that meets your individual needs.