Although nutrition is important for the health of all children, it is especially important for those who have cancer or are getting treatment for cancer. Nutrition for Children with Cancer outlines special nutritional needs for children with cancer and offers practical advice for daily food planning. This article reviews your child’s changing nutritional needs, how to deal with eating problems, differing treatment approaches, and special food considerations.
Why good nutrition is important?
Your child’s ability to eat will change during treatment. Some cancer treatments cause side effects that can make your child feel sick, weak, or lose their appetite. Eating well during childhood cancer treatment can help your child rebuild strength and get back to being a kid. The American Cancer Society offers suggestions for dealing with common eating issues that come up during treatment.
It is normal for kids to fight food sometimes, but it can be especially hard for the child with cancer and the family. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatments can affect a child’s appetite in a variety of ways. The good news is your Registered Dietitian can help you develop a plan to manage these side effects and support your child while they are undergoing treatment.
What your child eats is an important part of their care. Good nutrition can help them have enough energy, heal faster, and stay strong while they are fighting cancer. Poor nutrition, on the other hand, can lead to health problems during treatment and beyond. Good nutrition is important for everyone, but it is especially important for children with cancer. A child with cancer needs the right combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals to stay strong and healthy during treatment.
Benefits of good nutrition
Maintaining a healthy diet during and following treatment can help your child feel better and stay stronger. Because cancer (and cancer treatments) can affect your child’s appetite, tolerance to foods, and ability to absorb nutrients, eating well is especially important.
The right balance of nutrition can support healing and reduce the side effects of cancer and its treatments. The meal planning recalls memorable family recipes and offers useful advice on how to eat well with cancer. Feel less tired and weak, maintain weight and muscle strength, reduce nausea and risk of infection, heal recover more quickly, build blood and fight anemia.
- The benefits of good nutrition include better tolerating treatment and treatment side effects, staying closer to the treatment plan schedule, healing, and recovering faster.
- Children need good nutrition to grow. They also need good nutrition for the treatment of their cancer to work as well as possible.
- Good nutrition will help your child stay strong, maintain strength, and fight off infection while they are having treatment. A big part of improving your child’s nutrition is making sure they eat the right things. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to planning meals and snacks, so what works for one child might not work for another.
We know it is not easy to get all the nutrients your child needs during cancer treatment when they have lost their appetite or have had problems eating. Ask your health care team, especially your child’s doctor, nurse, dietitian, and speech pathologist to help you come up with an eating plan. They may suggest a liquid nutritional supplement to help fill in any nutrition gaps.
Many health care professionals can talk with you about nutrition, including An RD is one of your best sources of information about your child’s diet. The dietitian uses this knowledge to promote health and prevent disease through counseling and education. The dietitian can help make sure your whole family is getting the right mix of foods every day. You may need to go to a different location or clinic to meet with a dietitian. Ask them during your next appointment or call the hospital or cancer center where you usually come for treatment.
What do children with cancer need: Nutrients?
Children who have cancer need proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and beans), carbohydrates (whole-grain bread and cereals, rice, pasta, fruits, and vegetables), fat (avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds), water, vitamins, and minerals. A dietitian can help you figure out how to make sure your child is getting the nutrients they need. Even if your kid’s symptoms make it hard for them to eat, there are things you can do to make sure they get the nutrition a growing cancer fighter need.
Children with cancer often need more protein during treatment. Proteins are used to grow and repair body tissue, particularly the skin and blood cells, and help children resist infection. After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment, children may also need extra protein to help heal. A child’s nutrition needs will change with the stages of treatment. At different times, she might need more or fewer calories and protein, fat, and different amounts of important vitamins and minerals.
Dietary protein is an important part of your child’s treatment. Meat, chicken, fish, poultry, beans, and lentils are all healthy sources of protein. Eat bread and cereals made from whole grains such as wheat, oats, barley, or brown rice. These complex carbohydrates provide dietary fiber and other nutrients.
Carbohydrates are one of the three main nutrients and give your child the energy (calories) needed for physical activity and proper organ function. Healthy infants, children, and adolescents need more calories per pound than adults to support growth and development. Carbohydrates give your body the fuel (calories) it needs for exercise, physical activity, and organ function. Children’s calorie requirements depend on their age, weight, and level of physical activity. However, kids being treated for cancer may need anywhere from 20-90% more calories for tissue healing and energy.
Carbohydrates should be the main source of energy for children with cancer. Foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, give the body’s cells the vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (key nutrients from plants) they need. Limiting foods high in animal fat and added sugars can keep blood sugars stable.
Whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat flour, may have been removed from white rice and refined flours during food processing because they contain bran and germ, which go rancid and cause foods to spoil more quickly. However, bran and germ are high in fiber and nutrients.
Soluble fiber makes feces softer and easier to pass through the bowel. For example, if you have constipation, adding extra soluble fiber during meals may help to relieve it. Insoluble fiber makes bowels move faster and increases stool bulk. This is helpful for constipation and hemorrhoids.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. The body changes these starches fruits and vegetable complex carbohydrates into sugar (glucose), which it uses for fuel. Sources of complex carbohydrates include pieces of bread, cereals, and potatoes.
Fats are the main source of energy (calories) dissolved in the blood. The body breaks down fats and uses them for foam padding for internal organs, stores energy, and carries certain vitamins through the blood. Fats provide flavor and enjoyment in food but consuming too much can be unhealthy. A goal is to eat at least three meals per day with a carbohydrate at each meal so that the body has more glucose to work with even during times when it is not eating.
Fats provide essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids that children need to grow. For cancer patients, fats often provide the highest quality calories possible.
- Monounsaturated fats– Your child should have healthy fats in their diet, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These oils are liquid at room temperature and contain essential fatty acids.
- Polyunsaturated fats– The polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and seafood are liquid or soft at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and flaxseed oils. They are also the main fats found in seafood.
- Saturated fats– Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are also found in animal sources, such as whole or reduced-fat milk, cheese, butter, and meats. Coconut, palm kernel oil and palm oil are tropical vegetable oils that are also saturated.
- Trans-fatty acids– Trans fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, are produced in a process called hydrogenation, which turns vegetable oils into solid fat.
Good sources of these essential fatty acids include soybean, canola, and walnut oils. These oils are also useful sources of vitamin E.
Hydration is key. The more hydrated the body, the better all the cells and organs can work. The body loses fluid throughout the day and a child with cancer may lose extra fluid from vomiting or diarrhea. The result of not taking in enough fluids is dehydration which can lead to dangerous imbalances of electrolytes (minerals) that are found in every cell of the body.
Children need fluid for health. Children can get some fluid from foods, like fruits and vegetables but they especially need to drink a liquid that is not food. How much liquid a child needs depends on the size of the child and how much liquid he is losing?
To check for dehydration, gently pinch up the skin on the chest or stomach. If the skin stays raised or takes longer to go back to normal, your child may be dehydrated.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy. Each one has a specific job, such as helping you see in the dark or keeping your muscles strong. The requirements for each vitamin and mineral change over time.
Most children who eat a healthy diet get all the vitamins and minerals they need. But calcium, vitamin D, and potassium are particularly important for bone growth. So, if your child has cancer, it is important to choose healthy foods that contain those nutrients. Talk with the doctor or dietitian to see if your child needs extra vitamins or minerals.
Your child needs a balance of all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in foods. But it may be hard for your child to eat a balanced diet if he or she has nausea and vomiting from cancer treatment. Also, certain cancer medicines can affect how much of these nutrients are absorbed by your child’s body. It is important to be aware of these changes.
Ask the doctor if your child needs to take a daily multivitamin while he or she is being treated. But a multivitamin is not enough. Your child also needs to eat a balanced diet that includes enough calories and protein. Before giving any vitamin, mineral, or other kinds of supplement to your child, be sure to check with a member of the health care team since some kinds of supplements interfere with cancer treatment.
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