Eating Hints for Cancer Patients
January 1, 1981
Special Diets for Special Needs
Special diets are an important tool for correcting nutritional problems that occur during cancer treatment. For example, a soft diet may be best if your mouth, throat, esophagus, or stomach is sore. Or, if your treatment makes it difficult for you to digest dairy products, you may need to follow a low-lactose diet. Some diets are well balanced and can be followed for long periods of time. However, some special diets should be followed for only a few days because they may not provide enough nutrients for the long term.
Only your doctor or registered dietitian should decide whether you need a special diet and for how long. If you are already following a special diet for another health problem, such as diabetes or high cholesterol, you and your doctor and registered dietitian should work together to develop your new plan.
Guidelines for common special diets appear in this section, including:
Clear-liquid diets are useful if the body can't handle the softest foods or heavy or thick liquids. Patients usually follow this type of diet after surgery or before stomach or bowel surgery. Patients with severe nausea and vomiting may also have this diet. A clear-liquid diet of ten lasts 1 to 2 days or until you can drink or eat other beverages and foods. It cannot meet the daily servings suggested in Figure 1 (except for fruit juices), but it helps ensure that your body doesn't lose too much fluid as you recover and become ready for a regular diet.
Click Here to see the Clear Liquid Diet table and suggested menu.
Figure 1, except meat. Extra milk has been included
to ensure adequate protein. When planned properly, this diet can be used
for long periods. In these instances, your doctor may prescribe a
commercial supplement and/or certain vitamins. However, you should only
take these if your doctor or registered dietitian recommends them.
If you must follow a full-liquid diet over a long period, you can increase the protein and calorie content of the diet by:
Click Here to see the Full-Liquid Diet and sample menu.
The table lists foods included in a soft diet as well as foods you should
try to avoid. Keep in mind, however, that you may be able to eat some of
the "excluded" foods without any discomfort or problems. In general,
though, it is probably best to avoid fried or greasy foods and foods that
may cause gas.
A fiber-restricted diet limits the amount of vegetables, fruits, cereals, and grains that you can eat. It also limits to two cups per day the amount of milk and milk products, such as cream, yogurt, and cheese, that you can eat. Milk does not contain fiber, but it leaves a residue in the GI tract that can irritate the bowel and cause diarrhea and cramping. The diet also is helpful for the many cancer patients who have a hard time digesting the milk sugar, lactose. (See the section, "Low Lactose Diet".) A fiber-restricted diet can be changed easily, depending on how you feel after eating certain foods. Use the diet in this booklet as a guide and discuss any changes with your doctor or registered dietitian.
There may be times when a low-residue diet, which is more limited than a fiber-restricted diet, is needed. On the low-residue diet, you may be able to eat most strained vegetables and fruit juices, such as white potatoes without skin, and tomato juice. All other forms of vegetables and fruits may be excluded from the diet. The low-residue diet also limits the amount of fat and dairy products you can eat. Your doctor or registered dietitian will let you know if you need to follow a low residue diet.
Your registered dietitian may gradually increase fiber and milk products in your diet according to how well you handle them.
Click Here to see the Fiber Restricted Diet and menu.
Lactose tolerance varies from person to person. Ask your doctor or registered
dietitian about choosing allowed foods and about low-lactose dairy products
that you can buy at the grocery store.
These products need no refrigeration until you open them. Thus, you can carry nutrition supplements with you and take them whenever you feel hungry or thirsty. They are good chilled as between-meal and bedtime snacks. You may want to take a can or two with you when you go for treatments or other times when long waits may tire you. Ask your registered dietitian which supplements would be best for you.
Many supermarkets and drugstores carry a variety of commercial nutrition supplements. If you don't see these products on the shelf, ask the store manager if they can be ordered. You also may want to ask your doctor or registered dietitian for information about products for special patients. Be sure to ask for manufacturers' names, and, as mentioned above, be sure to read the label to see if any of the products contains lactose.
This article was provided by U.S. National Institutes of Health. Visit NIH's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.