As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, we asked Maria Petzel for her top nutrition tips for pancreatic cancer patients. Petzel is a senior clinical dietitian for the Pancreas Surgery Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a member of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Here are Petzel’s top six tips:
Take your enzymes. They are critical for breaking down food and for the absorption of nutrients. Contact Patient Central for more information about enzymes and speak with your healthcare team about this option. “For those struggling to maintain or gain weight, enzymes may be the solution,” Petzel said. “Taking enzymes and figuring out the right amount can make a huge difference in a patient’s quality of life.”
Be careful of vitamin supplements. They are not always recommended for cancer patients. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in people with cancer include vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, folate, magnesium, iron and zinc. These deficiencies may be caused by reduced food intake, increased nutrient needs and/or increased nutrient losses (malabsorption). Petzel provided clarity around this subject and how patients should approach this aspect of their treatment, saying: “In general, vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended for pancreatic cancer patients unless they are known to have a deficiency. There are concerns about how vitamin/mineral supplements may interfere cancer treatments or the body in general – it is possible that you can get too much of a ‘good thing’.”
Eat smaller meals and eat frequently, especially after a Whipple procedure or if you have poor appetite. Eating smaller portions may also help with digestion. “It’s pretty normal to feel full quickly and have a low appetite for several weeks after surgery,” Petzel said. “It works best to schedule meal and snack times and follow the schedule, even if it’s just a few bites of food or sips of a high-protein smoothie at the assigned time.”
Eat vegetables, whole grains and beans. Petzel stresses that plant-based diets are recommended for everyone, including cancer survivors. “We know a plant-based diet that includes whole grains and plant-based proteins can help reduce cancer risk and is recommended for cancer survivors. I encourage patients to follow a diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts — limited in red meat, preserved meat and processed foods.”
For those cancer survivors who have difficulty tolerating higher fiber foods – cooking vegetables, fruits and grains may make them more tolerable. Also removing thick skins from or juicing fresh vegetables and fruits can still allow intake of some of the good nutrients of these plant foods but fewer uncomfortable side effects.
Marinate meat before grilling. If you do eat meat, Petzel said that marinating your meat beforehand may reduce the amount of carcinogens found in meats grilled at high temperatures. “Marinating can reduce the formation of one type of potential carcinogen associated with grilling – use an acidic marinade such as vinegar or citrus juice. And no carcinogens are produced with grilled vegetables, so you can grill and eat all the veggies you want.”
Control weight loss. Weight loss is especially common in people with pancreatic cancer. It can be associated with treatment or with the disease itself. Petzel recommends tracking your food intake, making time for exercise and weight training, planning and scheduling meals and making eating a social activity.
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