Tips to help cancer patients overcome eating-related issues

Mr Ricky Chiu, 61, posing with the Singapore Cancer Society's booklet with tips to help cancer patients eat right, and a sample of a meal suited to a cancer patient. Mr Chiu was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997, but has since fully recovered. --
Mr Ricky Chiu, 61, posing with the Singapore Cancer Society's booklet with tips to help cancer patients eat right, and a sample of a meal suited to a cancer patient. Mr Chiu was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997, but has since fully recovered. -- PHOTO: WAGGENER EDSTROM COMMUNICATIONS

SINGAPORE - Many cancer patients think it is normal to lose a lot of weight during treatment, especially since chemotherapy and radiotherapy often have side effects like nausea and appetite loss.

But losing more than 5 per cent of one's body weight is unhealthy, says the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS), which has compiled a booklet to help cancer patients eat right.

Here are some tips from the society to deal with eating-related issues commonly faced by cancer patients:

1. Appetite loss

Eat several small meals a day, instead of three large meals. Try to have a bedtime snack, as it will provide extra calories but won't affect your appetite for breakfast. When it is hard to eat, drink oral nutritional supplements, as they are easy to consume.

2. Bloatedness

Drink beverages between meals, rather than during meals. Avoid oily foods, as fat stays in the stomach longer and makes you feel full. You should also cut down on foods that cause gas, such as beans, cabbage, and cauliflower.

3. Changes in your sense of taste or smell

Serve foods cold, or at room temperature, as this will make them taste and smell less strong, and be more palatable. Have lemon drops, sour plum, or preserved orange peel to remove any undesirable taste that lingers in your mouth. If your metal utensils leave a bitter taste, switch to plastic or porcelain instead.

4. Constipation

Eat fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and wholegrain products. Drink at least eight to 10 cups of fluid a day - but avoid caffeinated drinks as they tend to dehydrate the body. Use laxatives only with your doctor's advice.

5. Diarrhoea

Drink plenty of mild, clear liquids throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Avoid foods which are oily or rich in fibre, and switch to lactose-free dairy products.

6. Dry mouth

Sip fluids throughout the day, or suck on ice cubes. However, avoid mouthwash containing alcohol as this tends to dry your mouth out further. Eat steamed, stewed, or soupy foods that are easier to swallow. Your doctor may also prescribe an oral lubricant to relieve the discomfort.

7. Nausea

Instead of three large meals a day, switch to several smaller meals. Do not skip meals, as having an empty stomach tends to make nausea worse. If you have nausea in the morning, eat dry toast or crackers before getting out of bed. Small amounts of salty or sour foods - such as preserved plums - may help.

8. Sore mouth or throat

Cook foods until they are tender, and cut them into small pieces. Do not cook them with spices such as chili powder, cloves, and pepper. Avoid rough-textured foods such as dry toast and crackers.

9. Weight loss

Have small, frequent meals throughout the day. Eat when it's time to eat - not when you're hungry. Try and increase the caloric and nutritional intake of each mouthful of food. For example, eat crackers with kaya, add condensed milk into oatmeal, and drink soy milk instead of plain water.