Why is it important to pay attention to my eating now?
Eating right can be difficult when you’re caring for someone with cancer. Appointments may get in the way of meals. You might not like the food at the hospital or transfusion center. You may not have time or energy to cook. If your loved one is not eating on a regular schedule, you may be less motivated to prepare meals. But caregiving can stress your body and spirit. You're at greater risk of getting sick. So is the person with cancer. Eating well will help you both stay healthy. Nourished bodies can help you manage stress. A healthy diet can help protect you from heart disease, bone loss, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses. Heart-healthy eating patterns and Mediterranean diets are good for overall health.
How can I eat better?
Here are some tips for eating right:
- Get help with caregiving so you have time to eat well.
- Plan ahead for meals. Prepare some meals in advance. Consider asking a friend to help, try an online meal-planning tool (e.g., Interactive Menu Planner, Healthy Eating Plate, MyPlate Weekly Meal Planner), or a food delivery service (check to see what services may be available in your area).
- Avoid skipping meals. Try to eat breakfast. Pack a lunch if you’re going to be taking the patient to treatment during the day.
- Try to get a variety of healthy foods and beverages each day. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Try to eat 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily (4-5 cups per day).
- Vary your protein choices.
- Read food labels so you know what you are eating, and try to avoid saturated fats (cheeses, some meats, whole milk, butter, etc.), trans-saturated fats (snack foods, frozen dinners, cakes, cookies, margarine, fried foods), cholesterol, and added sugars.
- Try incorporating the Mediterranean diet, which includes little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil, and healthy fats.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- Drink 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
- Eat plenty of fish and nuts.
- Consume less than 10% of calories from added sugars.
- Cook with vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn) rather than butter.
- Drink low-calorie beverages without added sugars or sweeteners.
- Drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day.
- Limit salt.
- Consume less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium.
- Keep healthy snacks like fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, or low-fat string cheese on hand.
- Keep a food diary for three days. Write down what, when, where, and how much you eat. Your food diary will help you understand your eating habits and what areas you need to work on.
Where can I get more information on eating well?
Here are some helpful websites:
- American Heart Association Healthy Eating Center
- U.S. Department of Human Services Dietary Guidelines
- The Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Living Guide 2022/2023
You might also consider asking your doctor or a nutritionist for help in planning a balanced diet for you, given your age and any chronic illness restrictions you might have.
- The National Resources Center on Nutrition and Aging. (2020). Caregiver Nutrition Education Toolkit. https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/nutrition/Caregiver-Nutrition-Educa…
- Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2020). Nutrition Handbook for Caregivers: Helping Your Loved One Stay Well-Nourished During Cancer Treatment. https://pearlpoint.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Nutrition_Handbook_fo…
- Ellis, K. R., Janevic, M. R., Kershaw, T., Caldwell, C. H., Janz, N. K., & Northouse, L. (2017). Engagement in health-promoting behaviors and patient–caregiver interdependence in dyads facing advanced cancer: An exploratory study. Journal of behavioral medicine, 40, 506-519.
- National Council on Aging. (2023) Diet and Nutrition for Caregivers webpage. Available at https://www.ncoa.org/caregivers/health/diet-nutrition