While a child’s doctor, nurses, and registered dietitian can help identify nutrition goals and set up a plan to help meet those goals, it’s important to learn what works for each particular child. The American Cancer Society
outlines some ways in which eating a healthy, balanced diet during cancer treatment may help ease a child through treatment. Nutrition can improve tolerance and reduce side effects, lower risk of infection, help heal and recover faster, keep up weight and the body’s store of nutrients, and maintain normal growth and development.
Dr. Aziza Shad, chief of Georgetown’s pediatric hematology-oncology program warned: “If a child doesn’t eat well, he can’t handle chemotherapy well. Nutrition is medicine. It’s all connected.”
Not every child’s eating patterns will be affected by cancer treatment. However, depending on the type of treatment, both the cancer and its treatments may affect a child’s ability to process nutrients. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, cancer treatment can affect a children’s eating habits in a variety of ways. They may experience loss of appetite, sore throat and mouth, dental problems, changed sense of taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, and weight gain.
Caring Through Diet
In some cases, children undergoing treatment for cancer need total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to help meet their nutrition needs. TPN is a mixture of glucose, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals designed to administer the nutrients a child needs intravenously when they are unable to orally eat or absorb the nutrients from foods. For children who are able to eat normally during treatment, their diet should consist of greater quantities of unprocessed proteins, carbohydrates, calories, and water.
Protein is key to help grow, repair, and build tissues and cells in the body, along with replenishing the immune system. Getting enough protein can help children recover their health from the effects of radiation, chemotherapy, and help prevent infections. Foods like cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, peanut butter, nuts, and soy are ideal protein sources for children.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, and provide energy for cells to maintain healthy organ function. Choose from breads, pastas, potatoes, rice, cereals, fruits, and beans. Whole grains provide a boost in fiber, which can help children who experience diarrhea during treatment.
Keeping hydrated helps the body in numerous ways. Children undergoing cancer treatment often lose a lot of water due to vomiting or diarrhea, which leads to dehydration. Sports drinks and clear broths can make it easier to slip fluids into their diet, while adding electrolytes to their system. Water aids in digestion, flushes toxins from the body, maintains body temperature, and prevents constipation.
Caregivers who are considering giving their child dietary supplements of vitamins or minerals should exercise caution. It’s typically not recommended because they can interfere with the child’s treatment protocols. Unless the doctor, nurse, and dietitian all agree upon a dietary supplement regimen, caregivers should supply their children with nutrients through diet alone.
Remember: prioritizing nutrition isn’t just for the child, but also for the entire family. Caregivers need to pay special attention to keeping their own bodies strong and healthy through a balanced diet. By keeping yourself healthy, you’ll be better equipped to keep your child healthy during treatment.