Tips for eating and drinking

In this blog, our Nurse Advisor, Fiona Heath, looks at ways you can try and maintain a healthy weight, and how to manage mucositis.

Mucositis (a painful and ulcerated mouth) is a common side effect of chemotherapy which can have a devastating effect on a person’s nutritional status, as the pain can make it very difficult to eat or drink.

Symptoms of mucositis

  • Mild to severe mouth pain
  • Erythema (redness)
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A noticeable increase or decrease in saliva

Oral Hygiene

Good oral hygiene is the key to preventing or minimising oral mucositis. Good hygiene protects the mouth from infection, the formation of plaque and reduces irritation.

You can keep your mouth clean by:

  • Brushing teeth with a soft tooth brush regularly, especially after meals
  • Rinsing your mouth with a non-alcoholic mouth wash
  • Keeping your lips moist to avoid dryness

Tips for eating with mucositis

  • Soft, moist foods e.g. Soups, scrambled eggs, spaghetti, yoghurts, ice cream, mash potato
  • Dunking or moistening dry foods in liquids e.g. soggy Weetabix, bread in soup
  • Nourishing liquids
  • Cut food into small pieces to reduce chewing effort

Foods to avoid or limit:

  • Dry or coarse foods e.g. Toast, hard raw fruits, crackers, crisps
  • Acidic/tart foods such as fruit juices, kiwi fruit, pineapple, citrus, tomatoes
  • Salty and spicy foods
  • Very hot food or drinks

Maintaining Weight Throughout Treatment

Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced healthy diet can help you to keep well throughout treatment, and also in recovery. It helps the body to rebuild damaged tissues, fight infection, and cope with side effects from treatment.

Blood cancer patients are at high risk for developing malnutrition. There are lots of reasons why people undergoing cancer treatment may become malnourished. It may be due to chemotherapy treatments and its side effects, susceptibility to infections and immunosuppression, loss of appetite, or feeling anxious and worried. Maintaining a healthy weight can be challenging, especially if a combination of these factors is present.

Tips for weight maintenance

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Optimise anti-emetic (anti-sickness) medication
  • Frequent, small, bland meals
  • Avoid spicy, very sweet, fatty, strong-smelling foods
  • Flat ginger drinks, diluted apple juice and ice blocks can help

Mucositis

  • Ensure you have adequate pain relief
  • Avoid coarse, acidic, salty, spicy and very hot foods
  • Consume very soft, moist foods
  • Try using a straw
  • Regular mouth care
  • If you have a dry mouth, the use of a humidifier may help

Poor appetite

  • It can often be challenging to eat a full meal at once, so try eating smaller portions little and often.
  • Choose food that’s easy to eat, foods that can be eaten with little chewing, or use a sauce or gravy to make food easier to swallow.
  • If your poor appetite is related to taste changes, try using different flavourings.
  • Eat what you feel like eating, rather than struggling to eat something because you think you should.
  • Choose high-calorie food and fluids, as this will give you more energy without having to eat as much.
  • Be positive about what you do eat – every extra mouthful helps.

Diarrhoea

  • A low fibre, low-lactose diet can help
  • Fluids are important, make sure you are drinking enough
  • Anti-diarrhoea medications may help

Constipation

  • High fibre diet
  • Fluids are important, ensure adequate fluid intake
  • Undertaking physical activity can help
  • Laxative medication may help

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