Differences between food, supplements, and other forms of nutrition
What can you do if you aren’t able to get enough calories? Over the course of cancer, sufficient calorie intake is often hindered by loss of appetite, metabolic changes and other changes. The tumor itself or the treatments cause patients to no longer be able or allowed to eat adequately. Special measures can help you get through this phase.
Professional dietary counseling is strongly advised for all aspects of a balanced and proper diet. Dieticians/nutritionists and doctors know best about your nutritional needs and how best to meet them in your situation. They distinguish the following four forms of nutrition:
Level 1: enriching your food
Some patients can satisfy their nutritional needs with normal or enriched foods. Some need special diets or additional nutritional advice. Can you basically eat anything you want, you just need more calories? Then you can enjoy feasting guilt-free. Eat healthy nuts, healthy fats like plant oils, that extra pat of butter or that dollop of cream.
Level 2: adding value with oral nutritional supplements
If enriching your meals is no longer sufficient, high-calorie drinks and oral nutritional supplements (in form of liquids, semi-solids or powders) are a good option to meet your nutritional needs for macro- and micronutrients. These supplements often contain all the nutrients your body needs. Continue to eat normally while including supplements. Whether taken on their own or stirred into food and drink, they give you power for your day.
Level 3: enteral nutrition
The side effects of the disease or treatment can cause some patients to experience pain from chewing, sores in the mouth or throat, constrictions in the esophagus or pain while swallowing. Patients with head and neck cancer are the typical patient group for nutrition via feeding tube, called enteral nutrition.
A thin tube (the feeding tube) is used to administer a ready-made liquid nutrient mixture directly into the stomach or intestine. For some patients, enteral nutrition is their only source of nutrition. When used only as a supplement to ensure basic care, you can still eat and drink the things you like. Often, enteral nutrition is only a temporary solution and patients can get back to their regular diet when not constrained by side effects anymore.
Level 4: parenteral nutrition (either total or supplemental)
There are situations where the body cannot be adequately supplied through the stomach or intestine, like when there’s an intestinal obstruction. With parenteral nutrition, the digestive tract is bypassed altogether and the nutrients are fed directly into a vein (intravenously). Parenteral nutrition is a drug therapy and has to be prescribed by a doctor if indicated.
Please note: These aren’t levels every cancer patient goes through, like stations along a rail line. Many get by on completely normal food.