Nutrition Therapy: Therapies
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Your nutrition plan
When facing the challenges of cancer, the last thing you may want to think about is maintaining a proper diet. That is why Eastern’s Nutrition and Metabolic Support Department plays such an important role in your care. The nutrition team is here to understand your needs and empower you to make the right dietary choice for you.
“It’s more of a gradual process. Some patients are very hesitant to meet with a dietitian. They feel that they just got diagnosed with this disease and now we are going to take away their comfort foods. I don’t want it to be a loss. I want it to complement their treatment and to be encouraging and supportive,” says dietitian Sharon Day.
The nutrition team will integrate several nutrition therapies into your overall cancer treatment plan. The emphasis is on proactive nutrition intervention to keep you nutritionally fortified before, during and after your cancer treatment.
Personal meal plans
Adequate protein, calories and high-nutrient foods are important components in the healing process. Yet, cancer and its treatment can cause side effects that interfere with your appetite and your ability to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. “For patients in treatment, the biggest risk is malnutrition. My first goal is to prevent malnutrition,” says Day.
The second goal of the nutrition team is to be a resource for patients and caregivers who want to make choices to include more healthful foods in their diet. For instance, eating more of a plant-based diet is one way to help limit the risks of many disease types.
The nutrition team works directly with Eastern’s Food Services Department to create menus and recipes just for you. According to Day, 90 percent of the food provided at the hospital is organic.
By implementing new research findings into your personal meal plan, the team tries to incorporate all the foods, herbs and spices that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial to people with cancer.
Together, you and your dietitian will find foods your body can tolerate. “We start small. Initially we get a diet history, which includes a list of what foods the patient likes and doesn’t like. Then, I try to adapt those likes and dislikes to a meal plan. It may take a while to change the habits they developed over the years. I encourage each patient to follow up with their dietitian every time they come in so we can set a new goal,” says Day.
Providing patients with their favorite comfort foods is one example of how the nutrition team demonstrates the Mother Standard® of care. Your dietitian will learn what you eat at home in order to incorporate those foods into your meals at the hospital.
“The way we explain it is if you were keeping Mom at home, you could prepare everything—you have the kitchen, all the foods, you know where the stores are. There is no disruption. When you bring Mom in from 500 miles, we want to still be able to take care of her in the same way as at home—and better,” says Day.
When patients request a particular food that is not offered on the menu, Day says the nutrition and food services teams will make special trips to the store to bring it back for them. An example of this is when one patient requested extra sharp Kraft cheese and rye bread. “It’s the Mother Standard. You can’t learn it. You either have it or you don’t. We have gone to all extremes to get what the patient wants. I am convinced it means more to them then the actual food,” says Day.
Vitamin and mineral supplementation
While the Nutrition and Metabolic Support Department would generally recommend that most individuals get their vitamins and minerals from food first, vitamin and mineral supplements can provide nutrients that your diet may not. The nutrition team will work with the Naturopathic Medicine Department to develop a personalized supplementation plan for you.
The nutrition team will focus their supplement recommendations on managing vitamin/mineral deficiencies and using agents that help support optimal nutrition status. The following are some examples of supplements your dietitian may recommend:
- B vitamins
- Vitamins C, D and E
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Since diabetes and cancer often co-exist, a whole person approach to cancer care is essential. Cancer and its treatment can bring about metabolic changes that cause or aggravate symptoms of diabetes.
For instance, uncontrolled blood sugars can decrease your ability to adequately heal, weaken the immune system, increase the risk of infection, delay cancer treatment, and contribute to long term complications.
The nutrition team can help you manage diabetes so you can decrease these complications during cancer care.
Sometimes eating solid food is difficult and you may prefer to drink your meals. The nutrition team collaborates with the Food Services Department to offer a variety of protein powders, shakes, and smoothies to make sure you get the necessary nutrients. A combination of food and shakes can, often times, be enough to support you during treatment.
Medications can also be an effective tool in managing the symptoms that limit your oral intake of food. However, when medications along with nutrition recommendations aren’t enough, and if your nutrition status continues to decline, alternative nutrition interventions may be appropriate.
If your physician is planning aggressive treatment interventions for you, the nutrition team will be equally aggressive with the nutrition interventions. The nutrition team will discuss the appropriateness of a feeding tube or IV nutrition with you and your physician. The team will also evaluate laboratory results daily and make modifications to the enteral or parenteral formula as needed.