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Fatigue — Common Physical Side Effect of Cancer Treatments

Fatigue (a feeling of tiredness) is a common complication of many cancer treatments. It’s also one of the most difficult side effects to effectively manage. This is likely because fatigue has multiple causes, even in the same individual.

If you’re experiencing fatigue, be sure to talk with your oncologist and healthcare team, because they can work to identify its possible causes and develop strategies to improve your symptoms.

Regardless of the cause of your fatigue, nutrition can play an important role in remedying this symptom and in preventing its associated complications, like malnutrition because you can’t muster the energy to prepare food or eat.

The following tips are aimed at helping you meet your quantity goal without further compromising your quality goal when you’re too tired to eat:

  • Drink your meals. This may be a time to drink your meals by consuming smoothies and high-calorie, high-protein liquid nutritional supplements. If you’re very tired, the easiest way to do this is to use ready-made liquid nutritional supplements.

    When you have a little more energy, you can make your own smoothies and shakes. Numerous liquid supplements are available, including Orgain, Carnation Instant Breakfast drinks, Muscle Milk, Ensure, Boost, and even Slim-Fast.

  • Snack on healthy foods throughout the day. Guacamole or hummus with baked corn chips, trail mix, and almond or another nut butter on celery sticks or apple slices all make for healthy, high-energy snacks.

Following are some meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that don’t require a lot of time or energy to prepare.

Breakfast ideas for cancer fighters

Breakfast is an important meal and shouldn’t be missed. Here are some quick and easy meals to get you off to a good start, and if you aren’t a “breakfast person,” enjoy a lunch or dinner option instead:

  • Eat whole-grain, high-fiber cereals with your choice of milk and fruit. Look for cereals that contain at least 3 g of fiber and not more than 5 g of added sugar, if possible. Barbara’s, Kashi, and Food for Life brands may have cereals that fit this criteria. Your supermarket may carry these and other wholesome cereals, and your local health-food store is likely to have even more options available.

  • Try frozen, whole-grain waffles with a fruit topping. To complete this meal, add a small glass of vegetable or fruit juice and a source of protein, such as peanut butter, yogurt or kefir, or a hard-boiled egg.

  • Try a cottage cheese and fruit plate. One-half to three-quarters of a cup of cottage cheese provides an ample dose of protein to start the day, and a cup or two of fruit can meet your fruit goal for the day.

  • Try whole-grain toast, bagels, or English muffins with almond butter, peanut butter, or hummus. To complete this meal, add a small glass of vegetable juice or fruit juice, or have a piece of fruit.

Lunch and dinner ideas for those with cancer

If you don't have much energy to spare, consider these options:

  • Try a bean burrito or tostada. Take a whole-wheat or corn tortilla and add 1/2 cup low-sodium canned vegetarian, refried, or whole beans that have been heated. Top with lettuce, tomato, shredded low-fat cheese, and a dollop of sour cream, if desired. Still too much effort? Amy’s brand frozen burritos are pretty clean and may be a good option for you.

  • Try a low-fat, low-sodium canned bean soup. Add some whole-grain crackers or a slice of whole-grain bread and a vegetable or fruit salad for a more complete meal.

  • Try a tuna or chicken salad sandwich or stuffed tomato. Three-quarters of a cup of one of these salads can meet your protein needs for a meal, and the tomato will provide a serving of veggies. Although basic tuna and chicken salads are easy to prepare — simply mix these proteins with a touch of mayo and desired seasonings — some supermarkets sell them already prepared. Just be sure to read the labels to find the healthiest ones.

  • Try whole-grain pita bread with hummus, carrots, celery, or any other vegetables that you may have ready to eat. If you use store-bought hummus or hummus that has been prepared in advance, this is almost a complete meal without any cooking required.

  • Try a baked potato with cottage cheese or yogurt, whatever frozen vegetables you can easily heat up, and maybe a little salsa. On days when you have a little more energy, prepare several baked potatoes that can be reheated and topped with easy ingredients for a complete meal on days you have less energy.

    If you don’t feel like monitoring potatoes in the oven or only want to make one potato, use your microwave. Simply wash and prick a large potato with a fork in several places, put the potato on a plate, and microwave it for 5 minutes. Turn the potato over and then microwave it for another 5 minutes. If the potato isn’t soft, continue microwaving until it’s tender. Russets are considered the potato of choice for baked potato recipes.

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