October 19, 2019
Sara Liyanage is the founder of website Ticking Off Breast Cancer and author of a book of the same name. For Nourish, she’s written a guest blog about her struggle to eat healthily during chemotherapy – and the easy tips that helped
I’ve always had a healthy diet: favouring salads and vegetables over processed foods, limiting my intake of red meat, avoiding sugar, researching healthy nutrition and generally trying to think about everything I eat. It was all part of my aim to live a healthy lifestyle. So, you can imagine my surprise when, in October 2016 at the age of 42 and with no history of it in the family, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fast forward to January 2017 and I was in the middle of a gruelling chemotherapy regime. I’d lost my hair, I could barely get off the sofa, I was tired, achy, nauseous and, significantly, my whole appetite had changed. It was a time in my life when a healthy diet was so important, and yet I was struggling to eat healthily because all I wanted were plain carbohydrates and sugary foods. This was not what I had expected. Before chemotherapy had started, I’d armed myself with two breast cancer cookbooks that were full of wonderfully healthy, nutritious meals balanced with the right number of calories and nutrients for cancer patients. I had been looking forward to trying lots of new recipes as well as continuing with my regular diet of salads, fresh vegetables and protein sources such as chicken and fish.
My mum came to the rescue. She’d done some research to find the best foods to help the body during chemotherapy. She also knew that we had to get some more fruit and vegetables into my daily diet. So, with her help, these are some of the things I did:
- You’ve got to stay well hydrated during chemotherapy so add fresh fruit, like lemon and lime, to water. This helps with making water taste nicer and also you get the vitamins from the fruit. You can freeze some lemon and lime slices so that they also act as an ice cube in the water.
- Make fresh fruit juice ice lollies. You can buy cheap moulds from supermarkets or Amazon. Small ones are best because sometimes you just want a little taster (you can always have more than one). You can freeze freshly squeezed juice but if that’s a faff just buy fresh juice – I liked orange and apple. You can also blitz some fruit smoothies (bananas, apples, strawberries and blueberries) and make these into lollies.
- My chemo nurse suggested freezing small bite-size chunks of fresh pineapple to suck on after chemo – they really helped with my sore mouth.
- Add small pieces of extra vegetables to casseroles and stews such as onions, leeks, butternut squash, carrots and peppers.
- Add extra vegetables to pasta sauces like Bolognese. You could add grated carrot, small pieces of butternut squash and maybe a tin of chickpeas, lentils or butter beans.
- For snacks you could try cutting up bite-size pieces of celery and spreading these with peanut butter or cream cheese. Or perhaps try a thinly sliced apple (which tastes different to eating an apple whole) with cheddar cheese. Or crudities (sliced carrots, cucumber, broccoli and cauliflower) with cream cheese or hummus.
- Homemade soups are a really good thing to have in the freezer. On the days that you’re feeling up to it, you could make a batch of hearty vegetable soup and freeze individual portions in freezer bags. These can then be defrosted and heated up to have as snacks or meals. My mum made a gorgeous watercress and chickpea soup. It was so easy to make; find the recipe here.