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Commercial Products to Improve Nutrition
If you cannot get enough calories and protein from your diet, commercial meal replacements such as drinks, shakes, and "instant breakfast" powders may help. Other products can also be added to any food or beverage. These supplements are high in protein and calories, and have extra vitamins and minerals. They come in liquid, pudding, and powder forms.
Most commercial meal replacements contain little or no lactose. However, it is important to check the label if you are sensitive to lactose. Your nurse or a registered dietitian can tell you which products are best for you and which ones are available in your area.
Most of these products need no refrigeration until you open them. This means you can carry them with you and have them whenever you feel hungry or thirsty. They are also good chilled as between-meal or bedtime snacks. You may want to take a canned nutritional drink with you when you go for treatments or other times when you may have a long wait.
Many supermarkets and drugstores carry a variety of commercial liquid meal replacements. If you don't see these products on the shelf, ask the store manager if they can be ordered.
This section offers practical hints for coping with treatment side effects that may affect your eating. These suggestions have helped other people manage the same eating problems that you may have. Try all the ideas to find what works best for you. Share your needs and concerns with your family and friends, particularly those who prepare meals for you. Let them know that you appreciate their support.
You might also find it helpful to keep a journal so you can record side effects and write down any questions or concerns you want to discuss with your healthcare team.
This section includes tips for dealing with the following side effects:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Sore mouth or throat
- Dry mouth
- Dental and gum problems
- Changed sense of taste or smell
- Lactose intolerance
- Fatigue and depression.
Additional information is also available on the following topics:
- Preventing foodborne illness
- Extra vitamins and minerals
- Alternative therapies.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is one the most common problems associated with colon cancer and its treatment. No one knows exactly what causes this. It may be caused by the treatments or by the colon cancer itself. Emotions such as fear or depression can also take away a person's appetite.
A nurse or social worker can suggest ways to lessen these emotional difficulties. Sometimes the side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, or changes in food's taste or smell, make a person not feel like eating. If this is the cause, you can work with your doctor or nurse to get the side effects under better control.
For some people, loss of appetite lasts for just a day or two. For others, it's an ongoing concern. Whatever the cause, here are some suggestions that might help:
- Try liquid or powdered meal replacements, such as an "instant breakfast," during times when it is hard for you to eat food.
- Try frequent small meals throughout the day, rather than fewer big ones. It may be easier to eat more that way, and you won't get so full.
- Keep snacks within easy reach so you can have something whenever you feel like it. Cheese and crackers, muffins, ice cream, peanut butter, fruit, and pudding are good options. Take a portable snack with you when you go out, such as peanut butter crackers or small boxes of raisins. (See Table 4: Quick and Easy Snacks for more snack ideas.)
- Even if you don't feel like eating solid foods, try to drink beverages during the day. Juice, soup, and other similar fluids can give you important calories and nutrients. Milk-based drinks also provide protein. (See Table 2 and Table 3 for more examples of fluids.)
- If possible, try having something to eat at bedtime. Doing this won't affect your appetite for the next meal.
- Sometimes, changing the form of a food will make it more appetizing and help you eat better. For example, if eating whole, fresh fruit is a problem, try mixing fruit into a milkshake. (See Colon Cancer Recipes for a banana milkshake recipe.)
- Try softer, cool, or frozen foods, such as yogurt, milkshakes, or Popsicles.
- Take advantage of times when you do feel well, and have a larger meal then. Many people have a better appetite first thing in the morning when they are well rested.
- During meals, sip only small amounts because drinking may make you feel full. If you want to have more than just a small amount to drink, have it 30 to 60 minutes before or after a meal.
- Make mealtimes as relaxed and pleasant as possible. Presenting food or meals in an attractive way may also help.
- If your healthcare provider says it's okay, have a small glass of wine or beer during a meal. It may help to stimulate your appetite.
- Regular exercise may help your appetite. Check with your healthcare provider to see what options are open to you.
Many people with colon cancer lose weight during their treatment. This is partly due to the effects of the cancer itself on the body. Also, if you've lost your appetite and are eating less than usual because of your treatment or emotional worries, you may lose weight.
(See Table 5: How to Add Calories and Table 6: How to Increase Protein for ideas on slowing down weight loss or even gaining a few pounds. The tips in the "Loss of Appetite" section may also be helpful.)
Three simple recipes (see Colon Cancer Recipes) show you how to increase the calories and protein of familiar foods:
- Fortified milk
- High-protein milkshake
- Peanut butter snack spread.
Also, for extra protein in dishes, consider adding a little nonfat instant dry milk to scrambled eggs, soup, cereal, sauces, and gravies.