Side effects from oral cancer and its treatment can make it challenging to eat essential nutrients that can maintain strength and support recovery. Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, a senior nutritionist at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, shares strategies for reaching your nutritional goals:
Eat small meals often
Have six to eight small meals or snacks throughout the day that are high in caloric value, like hummus or bean dips, avocado, pudding made with enriched milk, or eggs cooked in olive or canola oil. Large meals may seem intimidating or unappealing if you have a decreased appetite; looking at smaller portions of food can make eating a less overwhelming experience.
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Dress it up
Instead of using a typical table setting, try arranging a serving tray with an assortment of colorful dishes, napkins, or glassware. “We all tend to eat with our eyes,” says Kennedy. “The better it looks, the more appealing it will be.”
Color your plate
To support your immune system, choose colorful fruits and vegetables that aren’t too acidic like cantaloupe and watermelon, or spinach and carrots. If you have mouth sores or sensitivity to chewing, avoid rough or coarse foods and focus on pureed options such as blended soups, mashed potatoes, avocados, applesauce, and bananas.
Pick foods you crave and that are familiar to you, and then boost their nutritional value. Kennedy suggests stirring creamy nut butters into hot cereal or cold smoothies, or drizzling olive oil into soup or on mashed potatoes and pasta.
“Enjoying a smoothie as a meal or snack is an easy way to boost protein and calorie intake, and it can be a great option for those who have difficulty swallowing,” Kennedy says.
Plus, there are many ways to easily alter a smoothie recipe. For example, if you would like a smoothie with a thinner consistency, try using skim milk, unsweetened almond milk or non-acidic fruit juice instead of Greek-style yogurt as a base.
Looking for an extra boost of protein? Simply stir powered milk, or whey, pea, hemp or soy protein mixes into your blender. Smoothies are a great way to experiment with textures and ingredients that fit your dietary needs. This Mixed Berry Smoothie, for instance, is packed with antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, which can help support your body’s healthy cells and immune system during treatment.
“Good nutrition is a very important part of cancer treatment and survivorship, and since tolerance to foods during oral cancer treatment can vary greatly, meeting with our nutrition team can help you create an individualized meal plan that incorporates the best foods for you,” says Kennedy.
For more health tips and recipes, visit the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center Nutrition Services website. Learn more about oral cancer research and treatment from Dana-Farber’s Head & Neck Cancer Treatment Center.