Enjoy Holiday Food without Regret

Eating Thanksgiving with CancerEating healthy during the holidays can be a challenge for most of us, but for many cancer patients it’s a struggle just to eat. If you’re currently going through cancer treatment, eating might not be the first thing on your mind. However, staying nourished during treatment is extremely important. Your body needs more nutrients than normal to repair the effects of treatment.

We are all well aware that holiday foods tend to be fatty and sugary with many strong flavors. If you are having symptoms such as nausea, low appetite, taste changes or pain with swallowing, many of the traditional holiday foods will be unsettling. Avoid heavy cream sauces or gravies if you have a sensitive stomach. Also, stay out of the room where food is being cooked because cooking smells can make you nauseous. Turkey breast, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and basic vegetable dishes should be well tolerated. Whole grains like brown rice, barley and quinoa make excellent side dishes. Eat lots of fruits or veggies without buttery sauces or other fats. Let friends and family know how you feel and what dishes you can tolerate. Eat small portions and see how you handle the food, then go back for larger portions. Don’t overdo it.

If you are in cancer treatment, you may have a weakened immune system and you will need to be extra careful about foodborne illness and food safety. The primary cause of foodborne illness is eating perishable foods that have been held longer than two hours at room temperature. Keep hot foods at 140F or higher and cold foods at 40F or lower, out of the “danger zone.” Discard any turkey, stuffing, gravy or other items left out longer than two hours. Do not wait to refrigerate leftover foods; place immediately in a shallow container and pop them in the fridge. Keep turkey and dressing no longer than three days in the refrigerator, or freeze them. If you have any doubt about whether raw vegetables have been washed, skip them or your bring your own.

During this season of parties and social gatherings, many struggle to balance holiday indulgences with a healthy lifestyle. Weeks of eating foods high in sugar and fat, and limited amounts of fruits and vegetables, can start the New Year off with unwanted extra pounds. For rich seasonal treats, focus on small portions: a bite size piece of chocolate, a small handful of party nuts, slivers of pumpkin pie. Studies show that the first few bites of a food taste the best.

Limit high calorie, sugary beverages and get creative with plain water by making your own infused water. My favorite combination is mint with cucumber slices, refrigerated for at least 4 hours. But you can mix any fruit and herb variety. Include some of these healthy foods into your holiday diet: green and orange fruits and vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, berries, wild legumes, almonds and brazil nuts, and ginger.

The holidays are a special time, but for those in cancer treatment, there’s also anxiety. With careful planning and preparation, you can create an enjoyable holiday season.

About Tiffany Barrett

Tifffany BarrettTiffany Barrett, MS, RD, CSO, Clinical Dietitian Specialist, provides personalized nutritional advice to Winship at Emory patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. Ms. Barrett also consults with patients who have completed treatment and wish to continue to build a strong and healthy diet. She earned her Bachelor of Science at Florida State University and a Master of Science at University of North Florida. Tiffany is a Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and completed a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management.

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