When you are navigating a lung cancer diagnosis, nutrition can be an important part of your journey. Eating a well-balanced diet before, during & after treatment, can help you feel better, maintain your strength and speed your recovery.
On March 27, 2019, LUNGevity hosted an Experts Twitter Chat with Tasha Feilke, MS, RD, CSO, an oncology dietician at Savor Health, to discuss important nutrition issues for lung cancer patients. Tasha also shared tips and resources to help make informed choices about nutrition and help you to achieve and maintain good health.
LUNGevity: How can lung cancer treatment affect a patient’s appetite?
Tasha: Appetite can become less depending on the type of treatment and also on the stage of the cancer. It is important to anticipate side effects such as nausea, fatigue, mouth pain and taste alterations so that you can have some tools to help deal with them!
LUNGevity: Why is weight loss an issue for people undergoing lung cancer treatment?
Tasha: The main issue is that too much weight loss can lead to malnutrition and cause other health issues. It’s very important to maintain your current weight as much as possible while undergoing treatment. Research has shown that maintaining weight can boost tolerance to treatment, boost healing after treatment, as well as help to keep up energy and strength for a higher quality of life.
LUNGevity: What are some tips for lung cancer patients who are trying to gain or maintain weight?
Tasha: It can be helpful to change your eating schedule to eating small meals/snacks every few hours versus 3 larger meals per day. Try to consume nutrient dense foods more often: nut butter, trail mix, avocado, hummus and dips, Greek yogurt. Smoothies are also a great calorie booster if experiencing mouth pain or fatigue with eating.
LUNGevity: What are some good ways for lung cancer patients to avoid dehydration?
Tasha: Aim for at least 8 cups of fluids per day to prevent dehydration and to prevent fatigue. Fluid options include water, juices, milk, herbal teas, smoothies, soups and broths, and even popsicles. Keeping a water bottle with you at home and while out will help you sip throughout the day. Before you know it, you will meet your goal!
LUNGevity: Should people with lung cancer follow a special diet or cut out certain foods?
Tasha: There is not a special diet specifically for lung cancer, although if undergoing treatment it is important to consume protein at every meal to help maintain muscle mass (good choices are eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and lean meats).
For optimal health and to help prevent lung cancer or lung cancer recurrence, the AICR recommends avoiding sugary drinks and processed meat and limiting consumption of red meat and alcoholic beverages. Enjoy plant-based foods as much as possible!
LUNGevity: Can certain foods worsen side effects of lung cancer treatment?
Tasha: If experiencing mouth pain or mouth sores, you may want to avoid acidic, or salty foods/drinks such as citrus juices, pickled foods, and tomato based foods. You may also want to avoid rough textures such as crusty bread, tortilla chips, and some raw vegetables. If nauseous, temporarily stick to bland foods, such as cold sandwiches, oatmeal, and plain noodles and avoid high fat, greasy or fried foods.
LUNGevity: How important is it for lung cancer patients & caregivers to eat organic vs. non-organic foods?
Tasha: The research studies are inconclusive at this point on whether organic foods offer an anti-cancer benefit, but studies have shown that conventional produce can have as much as 30-40% more pesticide residue than organic.
Since more than half of dietary pesticide exposure comes from 12 fruits and veggies – also known as the EWG “dirty dozen”—you may want to choose organic for these items.
LUNGevity: Can poor nutrition lead to depression in lung cancer patients & caregivers?
Tasha: Poor eating, or malnutrition, can certainly lead to depression among lung cancer patients. If our bodies are deprived of proper calories and/or deficient in specific vitamins and minerals, this can affect our brain chemistry. It’s important to keep your medical team informed of any appetite/eating issues you may be having as well as feelings of depression, so they can prescribe the correct treatment and have you feeling better!
LUNGevity: Are there things lung cancer patients & caregivers can do to boost energy levels/immune system/mental health?
Tasha: Sure! Eating a variety of fruits and veggies (the color of the rainbow) will ensure you are consuming many important vitamins and minerals for immune system health. Regular activity (a daily walk /fifteen minutes of light weights) can boost mood and energy levels.
LUNGevity: Where can lung cancer patients/caregivers find reliable information & helpful tips about lung cancer and nutrition?
Tasha: Of course, we always recommend LUNGevity Foundation for amazing lung cancer support and information! On our website, Savor Health, you can find the link to our blog, which has nutrition tips and recipes as well as specific articles regarding lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society and the American Institute of Cancer Research are great sources for finding the latest research studies on cancer treatments and nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention.
You can submit questions/topics about lung cancer and nutrition online and a Savor Health expert may address it in an upcoming blog!
Tasha Feilke is a board certified specialist in oncology nutrition and over the past 10 years has worked at a combination of inpatient and outpatient cancer settings, as well as provided online services for Savor Health.