Cancer treatment can be a challenging time for all involved; the patient and the caregivers. Apart from the medical aspect of the treatment, an important factor for speedy recovery is your cancer diet.
How is a cancer diet different from other diets?
A cancer diet is different from other popular diets in many aspects. Most popular diets focus on weight loss, whereas a cancer diet focuses on weight maintenance. This is because cancer and the side-effects of cancer treatment can lead to weight loss on its own.
To prevent further loss of muscle, fatigue and immunity, a cancer diet tends to be high in calories. Adequate calories ensure that you retain the stamina and immunity to withstand your cancer treatment.
Extreme weight loss and weakness may hinder your cancer treatment. Sometimes, the treatment may need to be stopped till your condition stabilises. This leads to unwanted delays that come in the way of your treatment and recovery.
A good cancer diet or chemotherapy diet will also help you cope with the side-effects of treatment like vomiting, nausea, constipation, diarrhea etc These could affect how many calories you consume. If left uncontrolled, it could lead to further fatigue and loss of muscle.
An ideal diet for cancer patients will be high in proteins and in calories.
Why do I need a cancer meal plan?
The primary use of a cancer meal plan is to ensure that you get the right amount of calories and nutrition during your treatment.
Having a meal plan for the entire week helps you plan your grocery shopping in advance. This can save time and effort for the cancer patient or the caregiver who cooks for the cancer patient.
Is South Indian cuisine suitable for cancer patients?
South Indian cuisine provides many options for nutritious, steamed foods. The spice levels of most dishes can be adjusted to suit you, and there are anti-nausea flavours (like ginger) that can be easily included into your diet.
Many South Indian dishes are steamed, and not fried. This can help those who suffer from nausea and vomiting. Fried foods and spicy foods tend to make the nausea worse for many.
Rice is a prominent part of South Indian cuisine, and rice-based preparations like appam, akki roti etc are a part of everyday food. Many find rice easier to digest when compared to wheat-based dishes.
All cuisines tend to have some dishes that are suitable for cancer patients. It is recommended that you stick to the cuisine you are most comfortable with.
Is non-vegetarian food good for cancer patients?
Proteins are an essential component of a cancer diet. After surgery, or during chemotherapy, foods high in proteins are recommended to cancer patients. This is to prevent muscle loss and to aid the process of recovery.
While proteins can be found in plant-based foods as well, meats tend to have higher protein content. Eggs, lean meats like chicken and fish are high in protein. For this reason, a non-vegetarian diet may help you complete your daily protein intake more easily.
Vegetarians can also get the required proteins by planning their diet more carefully.
While the consumption of lean meats like fish and chicken is recommended, red meats and processed meats are best avoided.
South Indian, non-vegetarian meal plan for cancer patients
This meal plan has been created specifically keeping in mind the needs of most cancer patients. It is high in calories and high in proteins.
Here is the weekly meal plan for a non-vegetarian who prefers South Indian cuisine:
You can print this meal plan and paste it in your kitchen for easy reference.
Apart from food, an important aspect is adequate consumption of water. Apart from water, drinks like fruit juices and tender coconut water are also recommended. You can find suitable recipes for such drinks that prevent dehydration here.
Where can I find the recipes for these dishes?
You can find all the recipes for the dishes mentioned in the meal plan by clicking on the name of the dish in the PDF version of this meal plan: Indian Meal Plan (1)
A few things to keep in mind about the recipes:
- Most of the recipes are for four people and you will need to adjust the quantities and measurements accordingly when cooking.
- Since the recipes are not specifically for cancer patients, the level of spice might be higher than desirable. As a rule of thumb, use less spice than what is mentioned in the recipe. This becomes important if the patient is facing mouth sores, nausea or loss of appetite.
- Some of the recipes use distinct regional flavours that you may not be used to. For example, some of the dishes that are popular in Kerala use coconut oil as an ingredient. Coconut oil has a very distinct flavour. If you are not already accustomed to this flavour, you might want to substitute it with any other cooking oil of your choice.
- Some of the dishes like idli and appam require some preparation beforehand. The batter may need to be prepared for fermentation a day before. View the recipe earlier to allow yourself enough time for this.
What food safety measures do I need to follow?
Cancer patients need to be extra cautious of infections. This is because their immune system tends to be weakened by cancer and some cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
For this reason, it is advised that all food be prepared at home, under hygienic conditions. The water used for cooking and for consumption needs to be boiled well, or filtered adequately, to minimise the risk of infections.
Only pasteurized milk is recommended. For store bought products like curd or yogurt, ensure that these are prepared from pasturised milk.
For some types of cancer, your oncologist might advise you to avoid raw foods. In that case, options like fresh fruit bowl, banana and dates smoothie can be avoided. These can be replaced with snacks like sandwiches, toast etc.
For meats like chicken and sea foods, ensure food safety by thoroughly washing the produce before cooking. Also ensure that the produce is fresh, antibiotic free and infection free.
Check for the expiry date on products like store-bought eggs to ensure freshness.
What is the benefit of a customised cancer diet?
To get the maximum benefits out of a meal plan, it would need to be customised for your specific needs. The weight, age, stage and type of cancer would all have to be considered, along with any co-morbidities like high blood pressure, or diabetes that the patient is suffering from.
Other concerns like allergies and food preferences would also have to be considered.
Any side-effects that the patient is currently facing, like nausea, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue etc would require specific foods to be added to the meal plan, to help reduce these symptoms.
For all of the above reasons, it is always advisable to consult a cancer dietician for a plan made specifically for you.
You can still use the email plan above, as long as you monitor for the above mentioned conditions yourself, or with the help of your oncologist.
If you prefer a vegetarian meal plan, click here.
We also have a meal plan for those who prefer North Indian cuisine.