Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Nutrition for Strength When You're Not Well

Get tips on nutrition and healthy eating when you’re ill.

Finding Time for Fiber

Most people need 20-35 grams of fiber a day, depending on your gender and age, according to the American Dietetic Association. In addition to improving regularity, adequate fiber can help prevent several forms of cancer and heart disease.

"Generally speaking, fiber comes from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains," Vagnini says. But if your appetite is compromised, "one of the things that you may try is a fiber supplement or try oat bran cereal mixed with some milk and fruit."

Fresh fruit is another great source of fiber. Also, some meal-replacement drinks and bars have fiber in them.

Certain pain medications and cancer medications can be constipating, so fiber can help keep you regular. But she cautions against filling up on bran because it is important to get calories from other foods as well.

Fitting in Fat

"We encourage people to eat fats like avocado and even ice cream," Pataky says. "We are not as concerned about fat types as we are about getting in calories because if you lose weight when you are sick, it's not just fat loss, it's muscle loss as well and that is very hard to get back," she says. "It's important to get enough calories and fat is high in calories," she says.

Juicing Your Fruit Bowl

"Fruits have more calories than vegetables so if you can't eat fresh fruit, eat canned fruit," Pataki says. "Juicing is not a bad thing either because it is easier to drink then chew when you don't feel well," she says.

"Generally I am opposed to juicing because it takes away fiber," adds Vagnini. "I'd prefer a person eat an apple or orange, but when you are debilitated it's a very good way to get in nutrient density, is easy to do, and more palpable."

Crunching Something Cruciferous

"I recommend one serving a day of cruciferous vegetables for optimal immune function," Beller says. Whether Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, radishes, broccoli sprouts, or others, cruciferous vegetables are probably one of the strongest powerhouses of phytochemicals or plant-based substances that are rich in disease fighting antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

"They should be a key player in one's weekly -- if not daily -- nutrients," she says. Sneak them into a salad or a sandwich.

Other helpful appetite boosters include:

  • Keep a food diary. "The first step is to keep a food diary or a careful food history for at least two weeks to help evaluate calories and nutrient intake better -- then show it to your doctor," Vagnini says. It also should include beverages and reflect how you feel after you eat, he says. Medications, too, should be included.

  • Be wary of nutrient thieves. "Fast food is easy and cheap and can be double trouble," Vagnini says. "These foods contain higher amounts of fat, sugar, and salt and they rob the body of nutrition," he says. Steer clear!

  • Eat smaller meals. "Eat small amounts often because most people can't manage the three-meal-a-day thing when they don't feel well," Pataky says. Even three normal meals seem like a lot to people who don't have an appetite. Also, get enough rest because people who are tired don't eat, and if you can, engage in some exercise such as walking. "Exercise improves appetite and fatigue," she says.
Reviewed on December 01, 2006

Today on WebMD

Building a Support System
cancer fighting foods
precancerous lesions slideshow
quit smoking tips
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas