Nutrition is an important aspect of colorectal cancer treatment. Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s take some time to look at the relationship between nutrition and colorectal cancer treatment.
Colorectal cancer can change the way your body absorbs and uses the food you eat. Unlike other areas in your digestive track, such as the mouth and esophagus, you may not immediately notice changes to your colon. After colorectal cancer surgery, your digestive tract may be shorter, meaning less area in which healthy liquids and nutrients can be absorbed by your body. You may also experience side effects such diarrhea, dehydration, or weight loss. However, you can use nutrition strategies as powerful weapons to fight these side effects! Just remember, nutritional recommendations for colorectal cancer patients during treatment may be very individualized. The specific type of treatment you receive surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation will change your nutrition recommendations so be sure to talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist.
In order to keep yourself healthy and give your body the nutrition it needs, discuss the following with your healthcare team:
Know your daily fiber goal. After a colectomy, you may have to eat low-fiber meals to slow down the transport of food through your system. If your colon is handling fiber pretty well, you may aim for 25 grams of total fiber daily as a place to start. Begin slowly by adding 5 grams or so of dietary fiber every few days if you haven’t been eating much fiber. Learn which fiber types you may not digest well. Lettuce, seeds, peelings, strings, and nuts contain fiber that is difficult to digest for some.
Get nutrition from food first. Eating a variety of foods and beverages is the best source of good nutrition, not dietary supplements. You may think it’s easier to grab single-nutrient pills or multivitamins for nutrition. But, don’t be tempted to use these supplements in place of eating wholesome food. Nutrients that may not be absorbed well depending on your treatment include: fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, and folate. Before taking any dietary supplements, first ask your healthcare team.
Hydrate well. Staying hydrated is vital if you had surgery to remove part of your colon or when you are experiencing digestive problems like diarrhea or constipation. Ask your healthcare team about the best fluids for you. Usually clear liquids are the best choice. Clear liquids include: tea, coffee, sodas, ginger ale, broth, plain gelatins, popsicles, clear liquid nutritional beverages, ices, and hard candies. Oral electrolyte solutions* such as Pedialyte, Hyra-Lyte, and Equalyte are another good choice. These replace minerals while you hydrate. Ask your healthcare team or pharmacist how to take specialized solutions.
Maintain your weight. Unintentional weight loss can sneak up on a person with colon cancer. Weight loss can be a risk factor for decreased resistance to germs and illnesses; poor response to treatment; reduced adherence to your treatment plan; and decreased quality of life. Fight weight loss by adding calories with extra spreads, dressings, and sauces. Stir in extra protein and calories to drinks, smoothies, hot cereals, mashed vegetables, and casseroles. Snack between meals on high calorie foods like smoothies, peanut butter and crackers, half a deli meat sandwich with cheese, or yogurt with granola. If you have lost 5% of your weight in one month or 7.5 % in three months, ask your healthcare team for a referral to a registered dietitian who specializes in helping cancer survivors.
You can maintain your quality of life during colorectal cancer treatment. You may just need to plan ahead and modify your food choices. Talk to your healthcare team as soon as possible to create your plan for dealing with side effects.
*Commercial products listed are for examples only and do not indicate any endorsement by PearlPoint Cancer support.
Fight Colorectal Cancer: Coffee with the Experts
If you live in the Nashville, TN area and want to learn more about colorectal cancer and nutrition, register for Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Coffee with the Experts on Saturday, April 2 at 9:00 AM. The event will be held at the Atmalogy caf . PearlPoint’s own Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDE, will speak on the subject.