Cooking and Eating to Fight Leukemia
Diet can be a powerful weapon in the fight against leukemia. It’s important for patients to eat foods full of antioxidants that help fight cancer and keep the body strong, so it can keep on fighting.
Here’s how to arm yourself with the right foods when you have leukemia.
Cooking To Battle Leukemia
A healthy diet for someone with leukemia is pretty similar to a healthy diet for the general population, says registered dietitian Dee Sandquist, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association in Fairfield, Iowa. But with leukemia, it’s even more important to follow healthy eating guidelines, because leukemia treatment can make patients nauseated and reduce their appetites, interfering with their best intentions to eat well.
Here’s what Sandquist recommends to bolster your body’s healing power:
Aim for 10 fruits and vegetables a day. The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are known to fight cancer cells, and most Americans, especially those with leukemia, need to eat more of them, Sandquist says. Sprinkle berries on top of cereal or whole-grain pancakes, top ice cream or frozen yogurt with peaches and blackberries, bake apples and sprinkle them with cinnamon, make fruit smoothies with strawberries and yogurt, and have an apple or banana as a snack during the day.
Steam your vegetables. This way, you get the most nutrients from them. And look for ways to add more to your plate. Try a stir-fry made from a variety of peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots; add steamed sweet peas, cauliflower, and zucchini to a salad; top a baked potato with broccoli or tomatoes; make vegetable soup with spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, or chard; and drink low-sodium vegetable juice.
Go for whole grain. Every bite you take should have as much nutrition as possible, Sandquist says. That means choosing 100-percent whole-wheat bread (check the ingredients list), brown rice instead of white rice, whole-grain cereal, and ancient grains such as quinoa.
Make protein a priority. The side effects of chemotherapy can include nausea and vomiting, which takes away some people’s appetite for meat, Sandquist says. But it’s very important for patients with leukemia to get protein because it will keep them strong. If a hamburger doesn’t appeal to you, try cooking something a little more bland, such as a piece of fish or chicken without much seasoning. It may also be easier to eat chicken or fish in soup, she says. If you are vegetarian, good protein foods include nuts and seeds, soy products such as tofu or soy milk, wheat or oat cereals, and eggs.
Soothe your stomach. When chemotherapy side effects such as nausea wreak havoc on your diet, Sandquist suggests eating foods like crackers and sipping ginger ale and other liquids, or even eating popsicles if it’s too difficult to eat solid foods. In general, it’s a good idea to pass up spicy foods and caffeine to avoid an upset stomach.
Fill up on healthy bacteria. Your stomach has healthy bacteria that help your body better handle food, Sandquist says. You can feed those healthy bacteria — called probiotics — by eating yogurt with live active cultures and drinking kefir, a liquid yogurt that contains healthy bacteria. Some cereals and bars even contain probiotics, Sandquist says.
Eat every two to four hours. People with leukemia tend to lose weight because of a loss of appetite and nausea, but it’s very important to maintain the weight to stay strong, Sandquist says. If it’s hard to eat a big meal, eating small snacks or meals every two to four hours may help.
When you’re eating a healthful diet — and you’re getting exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep — you’ll know you’re doing everything you can to fight the disease.