Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition
Especially when cancer comes into play, diet is essential in ensuring your body is filled with the right vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to give you enough strength to keep fighting. Your body is a machine and it works off of what it is given, but if the body is rundown by illness it can be harder for that machine to function. Your body may be lacking energy if it is constantly in fight-mode and your muscle mass may be depleted if you’re undergoing treatments that take a lot out of you.
So it is important to ensure you’re getting enough of the right kind of calories in your diet, as well as essential proteins. Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your energy up will help considerably in maintaining your health, and keeping you fit enough to manage treatment and recovery. The plate of the cancer patient may look a bit different than usual, but if you think of it as essential fuel for your body it can make the transition that much easier.
Tips and Tricks for Patients with Mesothelioma
- You’ll want to eat frequently. The body is burning off a lot of energy trying to keep up with the illness, so you’ll want to eat several small meals every couple of hours to keep your energy up. Things like cheese, eggs, full-fat yogurts, and sandwiches make great quick snacks and pack protein, vitamins, and minerals into each meal.
- All of your meals should be nutritionally balanced and dense with proteins, healthy fats, and essential vitamins. Things like fish, protein shakes, scrambled or hardboiled eggs, full-fat yogurts with berries, nut butter, soups, and sandwiches with protein, will provide those essential things easily.
- Certain tastes and scents will change for you during this time and make it difficult for you to stomach certain foods you’re used to. Try stepping out of the box and testing things that might be more palatable. If scents tend to bother you and cooking is difficult you might want to try eating more easily prepared foods that can just be heated in the microwave or eaten cold.
- Make sure to stay hydrated. Water is essential in helping replenish your energy and staving off a dry mouth. Certain medications can make your mouth dry and bitter, so water and other liquids can help stave it off and keep you feeling refreshed.
- If solid foods are difficult for you to swallow or stomach, try blended soups, yogurt or smoothie bowls, lightly enriched cereals, protein shakes, and rich vegetable and fruit juices.
- Do not forget to eat. It is important to keep your energy up and your metabolism going. Even if you’re just having some cheese and crackers or a sandwich, it is still something that is going to help fuel your body and keep you running.
As mentioned above, the typical plate and nutrition requirements for a patient with mesothelioma, or any other patient with cancer, will be different than what is recommended for others. Patients with severe illnesses like these need a lot more whole, nutrient-dense, and protein-rich foods to keep them healthy and manage their weight and energy while undergoing treatment. Medications, chemotherapy, radiology, and other forms of treatment can severely deplete important nutrients like iron, protein levels, and antioxidants.
If you can, it is best to try and supplement these things by adding foods that are rich in them to your diet, rather than relying on vitamins and supplements. Adding extra supplements to your diet in such a concentrated form can sometimes affect your medications, or can be too much for your body in large quantities.
You’ll want to also make sure you’re replacing lower-calorie forms of nutrition with more calorie-dense and nutritionally beneficial options.
- Lean or Processed Meats: You’ll want to replace lean cuts of chicken and more processed deli meats with higher protein, calorie-dense options. Things like salmon, chicken thighs, eggs, kidney beans, and nuts, can provide you with those heavy doses of protein without skimping on calories or having to rely on processed or fat-laden options like red meats, cold-cuts, and bacon.
- Water-Heavy Vegetables: Things like iceberg lettuce and celery are not going to fly as a heavy part of your diet. They help keep you hydrated, but they don’t offer much of anything in the way of nutritional benefits. You’ll want to swap them out for dark, leafy greens as they are high in iron and other essential vitamins. Starches like sweet potatoes with plenty of potassium, vitamin D, B, A, and calcium.
- Grains: You should be eating more protein than grains, but the grains you are eating should also be nutrient-dense. You’ll want to limit processed grains and things like white bread and rice, and switch them out with whole grains.
- Sweets: Fruits can be a great replacement for sweet treats like candy and baked goods. They are rich in vitamins and especially things like citrus fruits which are high in vitamin C, and berries that are rich in antioxidants. While it isn’t bad to have sweets on occasion, fruits will give you the kind of benefits you’re looking for while curbing sweet cravings.
Before you make any changes, you should talk to them about your individual needs. They will be able to assess your bloodwork, treatment plan, and other factors to determine what you might be deficient in and need to supplement into your diet. They can either help you or set you up with a nutritionist who can devise a meal plan to give you what you might be lacking.
They will want to ensure you’re getting the right levels of everything as well as more whole foods rather than processed foods in your diet.
Healthy Booster Foods
When you’re planning your diet, in addition to raising your protein levels, iron levels, and making sure you’re getting enough calories, you’ll also want to imbibe things that will boost your recovery. Treatments can take a lot out of your system, so adding elements to your diet that will make that recovery swifter and easier is incredibly beneficial.
- Antioxidants: Essentially the purpose of antioxidants is to prevent cell damage and free radical damage which is so common in cancer. They help prevent cancerous growth so they are incredibly beneficial when it comes to aiding in cancer treatment and nutrition. Foods that are high in these antioxidants are things like blueberries, cranberries, black beans, dark leafy greens, pecans, beetroot, basil, and many more. You can even drink your antioxidants in the form of green teas and other medicinal teas that will also help to hydrate you.
- Fiber: Healthy eating, in general, helps lower your risk of cancer, and dietary fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy diet. Dietary fiber also helps to flush out impurities and can minimize the growth of the cancer cells already in your body. Foods high in fiber are oats, apples, barley, whole grains, and several nuts and seeds.
- Anti-Inflammatory Agents: You’ll want to pack your diet with plenty of anti-inflammatories. The mesothelioma as well as the different treatments can make you more vulnerable to other common illnesses. By arming your body with immune boosters and anti-inflammatories you give yourself a better fighting chance. You’ll find most anti-inflammatory properties in herbs and spices like garlic, turmeric, ginger, mint, rosemary, basil, and more.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: You’ll find these mostly in foods with healthy fats, which are incredibly beneficial when you’re losing a considerable amount of weight due to your treatments. Foods high in omega-3s also tend to be rich in protein, which you need a lot of during treatment to keep you healthy and strong. Omega-3s reduce tumor growth but it is best to find them in naturally derived foods rather than taking supplements. Fatty fish like tuna, sardines, salmon, and mackerel, as well as flaxseed, fortified eggs, yogurts, and juices, all are great sources of omega-3s.
- Coenzyme Q10: Enzymes are essentially proteins so they are found in protein sources. What they mostly do is help with protecting your heart from the damage and strain that chemotherapy and radiation inflict. Meat and fish like chicken, sardines, trout, as well as nuts and legumes like peanuts, soybeans, and lentils, all provide sources of both protein and the coenzyme.
Making the Most of Your Meals
We’ve covered that to manage your mesothelioma, you’ll need to prepare meals accordingly to be fully fortified with all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, as well as enough calories to keep you functional. It can be difficult though to cook and even have an appetite while you’re undergoing treatments. Either having someone cook and prepare food ahead of time for you or doing it yourself can ensure you stay nourished while not having to always prep food.
This can also save you time on shopping by planning and prepping ahead so you can minimize your shopping trips. This doesn’t have to be a purely meticulous thing either.
If you have favorite foods or drinks you should try to incorporate them in ways that make it easier to stick to your meal plan.
- Make it Positive: If you enjoy breakfast food, try to incorporate that into your meal plan in as many creative ways as possible. Scrambled eggs and turkey bacon, protein pancakes, fruit, and veggie smoothies, yogurt parfaits with antioxidant-rich berries and whole-grain granola or nuts, and even smoked salmon and cream cheese on a whole-grain bagel are all great options to pack some nutrient density into your diet while enjoying your favorite types of food. If you like listening to music or talking with friends and family while you eat, turn on your favorite playlist, grab a buddy, or fire up facetime during mealtimes to make them feel more positive.
- Add Calories Creatively: Your body is burning so much energy so quickly that even with more frequent meals it can be difficult to pack healthy calories into your diet in ways that make you feel satisfied. Sneak nut butter into your protein shakes or smoothies. Add protein and iron-rich vegetables to broths and even scrambled eggs to bulk out your meals. Make sure to consume liquids after meals so you have more room for your food instead of filling up on water.
- Don’t Restrict Too Much: Even though there are foods you should be eating more of, you should also eat what makes you happy. It can be hard to maintain an appetite while undergoing treatment so be sure to keep snacks around and make meals that make you feel good. If you enjoy sweets now and again, don’t be afraid to indulge in some ice cream, cheesecake, or custard. If you’re worried about the nutritional benefits, you can always pack your happy snacks with things that help bulk them out and make them more protein or calorie heavy.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Food: In many other circumstances, there are always things telling us not to eat certain things, or to be afraid of calories. When you’re struggling with something as difficult on the body as mesothelioma, you need all of the extra calories you can get. So cooking with oils or kinds of butter, adding healthy fats like nuts or avocados to meals, and even enjoying cream cheeses, cream sauces, and sweets, can help get more calories into your system when eating is difficult.
- Don’t Forget Protein: Protein is going to be one of your best friends during your treatment. You can add it into nearly everything and it helps to bulk out your meals and fuel you accordingly so you can feel satisfied and energized. Sneaking meat into eggs, adding peanut butter to toast, making sandwiches, or snacking on cheese and crackers, can be small ways to add protein to your small meals.
Nutrition for Certain Treatments
Each treatment option will do different things to your body, so it is important to know how your specific treatment will affect your nutrition. Some treatments will deplete different essential nutrients, while some others will give you uncomfortable symptoms that can impede eating.
Chemotherapy is a more aggressive treatment for mesothelioma and other forms of cancer. Because the treatment is aimed at killing cancer cells, it can damage and affect healthy cells as well. This is what leads to hair falling out and what can make it uncomfortable or difficult to eat or keep an appetite.
Your mouth may develop sores or become sensitive to cold so eating can be unappetizing. If chewing is particularly painful or difficult you can try to stick to broths or other soft, warm foods like mashed potatoes, creamy soups, and oatmeal.
Chemo also has a particular effect on reducing appetites in general, so keeping foods on hand that is easy to eat or are appetizing to you can greatly increase the chances of getting you to eat.
There will be preparations you have to undergo before any surgical treatments can take place. If you are under a healthy weight, you may need to put on a few pounds before the procedure takes place. Surgeries aren’t something that will raise your appetite, so nutrients may need to be supplied via IV after surgery.
It is important, however, that during your recovery period you try to resume proper dietary habits. Making sure to eat regularly and pick whole, nutritious foods, will help you recover quicker and replenish energy levels. It can take some time to get your appetite back, but once you can start eating a little more you should try to sneak in those nutritious foods that will help bulk out your diet.
This mostly impacts the chest and can affect your esophagus. It can sometimes be painful to swallow, which means soft foods and liquids are probably your best bet for a little while until you can get adjusted. Nausea is also fairly common, so trying to eat small things at regular intervals is key to getting some calories into your system.
Whether you’re undergoing a surgical treatment, a combination therapy, or another form of treatment, there will likely be medications involved to help manage symptoms and pain. Medications to help manage things like pain are notorious for causing nausea, getting rid of your appetite, and causing a digestive backup. It is important to get enough fluids and fiber-rich foods while you’re taking these medications to try and flush out your system and keep things running.
If you’re worried that your pain medications are going to inhibit your appetite too much, you can always see if your doctor will prescribe an anti-nausea medication.
Immune Systems and Food
It is so much easier for those undergoing treatments for these illnesses to get sick. Whether it is catching a cold off of someone in the grocery store, or contracting a virus from improperly prepared food, it can wreak havoc on the patient’s weakened system. This is why food preparation is so important.
Meal prepping ahead of time and going to the store infrequently can reduce coming in contact with others who might be carrying illness or disease. Reducing the amount you take out from restaurants can help to reduce the chance of poor preparation and unwanted exposure to germs as well. If you’re making the meals yourself or having a family member, spouse, or trusted friend, help you with them, you’ll be able to have control over how things are prepared, cooked, and stored.
This can reduce your chances of foodborne illnesses and help you keep track of how long to store certain meals in the fridge or freeze.
Tips For Food Safety
- Cook Thoroughly: If you’re cooking meats, fish, eggs, or even certain vegetables, you must cook everything completely. Improperly prepared meat can cause bacterial infections, salmonella, and other illnesses that will do a lot of damage to your system.
- Clean Properly: Make sure vegetables and meats are properly cleaned and don’t cross-contaminate. Using utensils or cutting boards that have had the juice from raw meat or fish on them before you put vegetables or other foods on them can transfer the bacteria. So either use different ones for meat and veggies or cut your vegetables first and then your meat.
- Store Things Effectively: Whether you’re keeping meals in the fridge or the freezer, you’ll want to use airtight containers to keep things from going off too quickly. If you suspect something has been left open or left out when it shouldn’t have been it is better to throw that out and start again than risk eating it.
- Date Everything: Putting a date on all of the food you make ahead, as well as paying attention to the labels of pre-packaged foods can keep you from getting sick. Don’t risk something that might be old or out of date, even if it smells fine. You won’t be able to recover as quickly or easily from food poisoning or other issues with a weakened immune system.
- Plan Intuitively: Try to plan your meals in a way that uses up your ingredients effectively and doesn’t run the risk of them or the prepared meals going bad before you’re able to enjoy them. This saves you money, prevents you from getting sick, and ensures meals are always prepped for when you need something to eat.
Mesothelioma Diet and Nutrition