Cancer Education

Nutrition for cancer caregivers

Man stressed out

Taking care of a loved one with cancer can be hard on your emotional and physical wellbeing.  Keeping yourself healthy is an important part of being a caregiver.

How do you balance your own health and wellbeing with the needs of your loved ones with cancer?

Tracey Rapier, a Registered Dietitian at the Odette Cancer Centre, has put together a list of health tips for caregivers to keep energy levels up and eat a healthy diet.

Stay Hydrated

  • Dehydration can cause a variety of problems from simple thirst to low blood pressure and increased heart rate. At extremes dehydration can affect your kidneys which can be dangerous.
  • Water or other calorie free drinks like herbal tea are the best choices if you are trying stay hydrated throughout the day. The eight cups of water a day rule is great but the amount of fluids you must drink per day depends on many factors including how much you exercise. For more information on how much fluid you need to drink a day visit EatRight Ontario.

Eat enough fruits and vegetables

  • Fruits and vegetables have been shown to boost immune function, which will help prevent you from getting sick so you can continue to provide the care your loved ones need
  • Canada Food Guide recommends 7-10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. A serving is the equivalent of a piece of fruit that fits the palm of your hand like a medium apple or banana or a cup of diced vegetables.

For ideas about the different types of fruits and vegetables you should eat, check out the Canada Food Guide.

Keep your energy levels up with quick and simple meals and snacks

Although it may seem obvious the most important part of good nutrition is eating a well balanced diet. There are lots of quick meals and snacks you can make in minutes or in advance that will pack a great nutritional punch.   Here are some ideas for keeping healthy:

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with frozen pre-cut fruit, plain greek yogurt, a few tablespoons of ground flax seed and water, milk or soy milk as a base.
  • Snack: Plain Yogurt, fruit and a few tablespoons of ground flax, chia seeds or hemp hearts
  • Lunch: Hummus with whole wheat pita and raw pre-cut veggies for dipping
  • Snack: A handful of almonds with fresh fruit
  • Dinner: A few sliced boiled eggs (cooked ahead), whole grain toast and sliced tomato or a vegetarian chili     

Manage stress and avoid overeating

According to EatRight Ontario, “Studies have shown that stress can cause chemical reactions in the body that either increase or decrease appetite (the desire to eat).”

To avoid overeating due to an increased desire to eat:

  • Keep healthy snacks handy like fruit, veggies, whole grain crackers or popcorn.
  • Be active. Exercise can make you feel better and less stressed.
  • Talk it out. Chat with a trusted person (eg. a friend or family member) and ask for help with tasks.
  • Cut down on caffeine. Coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and pop all have caffeine which can disturb sleep and make stress worse. Instead try water, herbal tea, milk, decaffeinated coffee or fruit juice.

Portion size matters

  • Carry healthy meals and snacks with you when you are out and about and make sure to eat at regular times so you don’t eat too much too often
  • Eat when you feel hunger begin and stop when you are full.  This will help your body get the energy it needs without overeating.
  • If you are eating on the go choose wisely by avoiding high fat, fried or greasy foods and eat snacks that are low in sugar and fat.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day good nutrition is about staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet. This will help you as a caregiver stay healthy and energetic while providing the care your loved one needs and while keeping you healthy!

About the author

Patient & Family Education, Cancer

Blog posts from Patient & Family Education team at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. Visit the Patient & Family Education website for more resources, workshops and information.

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