Holiday Eating Tips for Cancer Patients

One of the best things for so many of us during the holidays is the food. Gingerbread men, butter cookies, pies, sugar plums, egg nog—it’s like an endless supply of festive goodness.

But for cancer patients, that smorgasbord can be a turn off and even off limits. Depending on symptoms or side effects during chemotherapy or radiation treatment, they may find that they are unable to tolerate some of the “traditional” foods they’ve come to enjoy during this time of the year.

“Many foods are too rich or heavy, and even the smell of some foods cooking can be overwhelming,” says Monica H. Crawford, MA, RD, LDN, an outpatient oncology dietitian in the Department of Medical Oncology at Jefferson University Hospitals and  the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson.

Don’t fret, though.  It doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of get-togethers.

If the sight or smell of food is enough to turn your stomach, grab a ginger ale or tea and move out of the area where food is being cooked or served. Try chewing a mint gum or drinking a hot beverage to mask the scent of food, suggests the American Cancer Society (ACS), which offers up a slew of holiday eating tips for cancer patients.

As far as what to eat, the ACS recommends that you keep an eye on foods as they arrive and identify things you think you might be able to tolerate. Try a snack with some fiber and protein before a holiday party or dinner just in case there aren’t many options for you. And start slow and take small portions so you don’t get that “overfull” feeling.

“It’s also good idea to snack on well-tolerated foods at home, prior to going to the holiday meal, or offer to bring something that you know that you can eat,” says Crawford. “And always take all medications as prescribed to help control any side effects.”

Some of the side effects are unavoidable though, like fatigue, which can cause stress for the person who is expected to prepare some of his or her “special” dishes or desserts and does not want to disappoint the rest of the family.

“I encourage my patients to allow friends or family to help them while they are undergoing treatment,” she says. “Most are eager to help, and would prefer that you delegate.”

Cancer nutritionist consultations are available through your radiation or medical oncologist at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson. For more information from the American Cancer Society, see “Holiday Eating Tips If You’re in Cancer Treatment.”

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