Diet plays an important role in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Often, these patients experience nutritional deficits, weight loss, and side effects to treatments (dehydration, nausea, vomiting, among others) that deteriorate their quality of life.
Moreover, as research in Frontiers in Oncology exposes, about 50% of cases of this type of cancer are related to an unhealthy diet that can be avoided. Therefore, to both prevent and treat the disease, there are several guidelines focused on improving nutrition.
The importance of a healthy diet when you have pancreatic cancer
The pancreas contributes to the breakdown of carbohydrates. It also releases enzymes that aid in the digestion of proteins and fats.
There are several reasons why diet requires special attention in patients with pancreatic cancer. To understand this better, a brief review of the functions of this organ is in order. The pancreas is located in the abdominal area, just behind the stomach, close to the intestine, the gallbladder, and the duodenum.
Since it’s involved in the digestion of food and in the regulation of blood sugar levels, the deterioration of its health due to diseases such as cancer brings complications at the nutritional level. As a result, muscle and fat tend to break down, leading to weight loss and fatigue.
In a literature review reported in Cancer Management and Research, researchers found that a diet high in sugar, fat, and red and processed meats can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Meanwhile, including fruits, vegetables and other sources of fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols can help prevent and treat it. Although the diet should be adapted to the individual needs of each patient, there are some tips that can be implemented at a general level. Let’s take a closer look.
Pancreatic cancer diet
Once pancreatic cancer has been diagnosed, the healthcare team works in collaboration with nutritionists to try to minimize the negative effects on nutritional status due to the treatments and the disease itself. Some recommendations are as follows.
1. Consume water and healthy beverages
Some of the treatments used for pancreatic cancer can lead to a state of dehydration. Because of this, it’s essential to ensure an optimal daily water intake of at least 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women.
In addition, it’s recommended to drink fluids one hour before and one hour after each main meal. Drinks with electrolytes and nutrients are a good choice. In addition, those containing caffeine and alcohol should be avoided as much as possible.
2. Eat small meals
Since the pancreas reduces its capacity to collaborate in the digestive process, it’s necessary to try to minimize the load it receives with meals. In this regard, keep in mind that small meals, eaten several times a day (5 or 6), are better tolerated than very large meals.
3. Consume lots of healthy sources of protein
Foods containing high biological value protein are essential for maintaining muscle health and weight. This macronutrient aids in the repair of damaged cells and, incidentally, supports the body’s defenses.
In fact, research shared in Clinical Nutrition found that improving dietary protein intake helps improve the prognosis of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer receiving chemotherapy.
Some recommended sources include the following:
- Yogurt and cheese.
Sometimes patients have difficulty eating the above foods. If so, liquid protein supplements, either dissolved in water or in shakes, may be considered. Other liquid proteins include bone broths, pureed soups, and Greek yogurt.
4. Choose easily digestible foods
Pancreatic cancer treatments often reduce your ability to assist in the digestive process. Hence the importance of choosing foods that are not heavy and can be digested more easily.
Red meat, pork, and raw vegetables are not recommended. It’s also recommended that food be finely chopped, softened, and boiled for easier digestion.
5. Consume whole foods
Whole foods play a dual role in the diet of pancreatic cancer patients. On the one hand, their contribution to dietary fiber collaborates with the digestion process. On the other hand, their complex carbohydrates help to maintain a good energy level.
The recommended products are the following:
- Whole grain bread,
- Brown rice,
- Whole-grain pasta,
6. Choose sources of healthy fats
While fried foods and trans fats hinder digestion and impair the health of pancreatic cancer patients, healthy fats are a good source of energy that, incidentally, help fight inflammation.
They can be found in the following foods:
- Olive oil,
- Canola oil,
- Nuts and seeds,
- Fatty fish.
7. Increase your antioxidant intake
Antioxidants are usually found in large amounts in foods such as fruits and vegetables. It’s recommended to eat at least five servings a day for optimal amounts. Berries, citrus fruits, and green leafy vegetables are excellent choices.
A study reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the consumption of fruits and vegetables may protect against pancreatic cancer.
8. Avoid sweets and sugars
As mentioned above, the pancreas is involved in the process of blood glucose regulation. As its function is reduced due to cancer, sweets, and sugars cannot be optimally digested. This leads not only to increased glucose levels, but also to other metabolic complications.
These foods should be avoided. The same goes for desserts, soft drinks, cakes, or other sweets; these must not be a part of the diet of patients with pancreatic cancer.
9. Taking pancreatic enzyme supplements
Your doctor may suggest supplementing your diet with a pancreatic enzyme supplement. Its function is to collaborate with the functionality of this organ so that it can continue to intervene in digestion. It even helps to reduce symptoms associated with digestive difficulties.
What is important to remember about nutrition in pancreatic cancer?
Adequate nutrition is key in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It aims to decrease the state of malnutrition, help you to maintain a healthy body weight, increase muscle strength, and reduce some of the side effects of treatments. It also helps to support the digestive function of this organ.
It’s recommended to prioritize the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats. In addition, it’s necessary to make sure that your eating habits are not too heavy for proper digestion.
Eating slowly and in smaller quantities is usually quite useful. The same is true of drinking plenty of water and keeping active.
In any case, each patient should receive personalized nutritional treatment from a professional. The nutritionist can guide more precisely how meals should be and which nutrients should be prioritized according to the needs of each case.