If you’re living with kidney cancer, what you eat could impact how you feel on a day-to-day basis. Find out which foods you should eat more of, which foods you might want to avoid, and what dietary changes to expect during treatment.
BEFORE STARTING ANY NEW DIET OR EATING PLAN
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or not, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or a dietitian before starting any new eating plan or drastically altering your diet.
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What to eat
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is a good idea for everyone — but especially those who are living with kidney cancer.
While your nutritional needs may depend on what type of treatment you’re on and the stage of your cancer, there are a few foods you should make an effort to include in all of your meals, if possible:
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and a good source of many essential vitamins and minerals. They can also help to reduce cholesterol levels and can help manage your blood sugar. Fiber-rich vegetables, such as beans and peas, are also healthful.
You should aim to have 4 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables from a variety of sources every day.
A few sample servings are:
- 1 medium apple
- 6 baby carrots
- 16 grapes
- half of a medium potato
- 1 cup raw leafy greens
Whole wheat bread, wild rice, and whole wheat pasta are excellent sources of energy. They’re also rich in fiber, iron, and B vitamins.
Certain whole grains, like some whole-grain breads and bran products, can be high in phosphorus. While this common mineral shouldn’t cause an issue for people with healthy kidneys, consuming too much when your kidneys aren’t functioning properly may cause some health problems. This is because the kidneys help to balance the amount of phosphorus in your body.
Phosphorus is in a lot of foods, and small amounts of it should still be OK even if you’re living with kidney cancer. However, your doctor’s advice about your personal phosphorus intake should always take priority over general guidelines.
Proteins are a necessary part of everyone’s diet, as they help to build and maintain muscle mass. But too much protein for someone with kidney cancer may cause a buildup of food-derived waste in the bloodstream. This may cause symptoms like fatigue, nausea, and headache.
Speak with a doctor or a registered dietitian about the right amount and best types of protein to include in your diet.
What to avoid
Several foods can increase your risk of kidney-related complications. If it’s not possible to avoid these foods or habits, try to limit your intake when possible.
Foods that are high in salt
Too much salt can disrupt the fluid balance in your body and lead to high blood pressure. This can exacerbate the symptoms of reduced kidney function.
Processed foods are typically high in sodium, so when possible, try to eat less of:
- fast food
- salty snacks (like potato chips)
- processed deli meats (like salami)
Whenever possible, use herbs and spices for flavoring instead of salt. However, if you’re using unconventional herbs, check with your doctor.
Foods high in phosphorus
Again, phosphorusis a natural mineral that helps your body in a variety of ways, including contributing to bone strength. But in people with reduced kidney function due to cancer, too much phosphorus can actually weaken your bones, as well as cause other side effects.
If your doctor is concerned about your phosphorus intake, they may recommend you reduce the amount of phosphorus-rich foods you consume, such as:
- processed bran cereals
- certain dairy products
Too much water
Overhydrating may also create problems for people with kidney cancer. Having reduced kidney function can compromise your urine production and cause your body to retain too much fluid.
It’s important for everyone to drink plenty of water, but make an effort to monitor your intake of fluids so you’re not consuming an excessive amount.
Highly processed foods and beverages
A 2018 prospective study found a 10 percent increase in cancer risk for people who eat ultra-processed foods.
Mortality risk has been associated with lower levels of diet quality. Red and processed meats have corresponded with lower dietary quality.
Try to limit highly processed foods and beverages, such as:
- packaged bread and snacks
- sodas and sweetened drinks
- meat preserved with nitrates
- instant noodles and soups
- frozen or shelf-stable ready meals
Beer, wine, and liquor could interact with the cancer drugs you take. There is also some limited evidence that drinking alcohol may increase
the risk of recurrence and mortality for existing cancer.
Tips for how to eat during treatment
While a varied, nutrient-dense diet is one of the best ways to care for yourself, going through cancer treatment can have varying effects on your body and your appetite.
It’s common to lose weight during treatment for many types of cancer, including kidney cancer. You may find that your taste for certain foods changes. Things that used to appeal to you may no longer be appetizing and may even make you feel nauseous.
But you can use trial and error to find a few go-to foods that don’t make you feel sick.
Even if you’re not feeling particularly hungry, try your best to eat regular meals so that your energy levels remain consistent throughout the day. If you have trouble eating full-sized portions, it may help to break up your meals into five or six smaller servings instead of the typical two or three big ones.
Eat your biggest meal when you’re hungriest — no matter what time of day it is.
Nutrition bars and smoothies may be good options to get extra calories in if your appetite isn’t what it used to be. Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about the healthiest options.
It’s common to deal with energy changes while going through cancer treatment. You may have less energy than normal and may even deal with weakness and fatigue.
Talk with your doctor, dietitian, spouse, or caregiver about meal delivery options. There’s a variety of these available, and many of them have nutrition information front and center. They can help make meal prep a snap, as well as help you eat your desired amount of calories.
There are certain foods that may be especially helpful for maintaining energy, as well as being easy to prepare. A few of them include:
- nuts and nut butters
- vegetables with healthier dips like hummus
- sandwhiches with leaner protein (turkey, chicken, peanut butter)
- hardboiled eggs
- whole grain cereals
- low sugar granola bars
Other side effects
Cancer treatment can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infection. Because of this, you may want to take these precautions while preparing and storing your meals:
- Wash produce thoroughly.
- Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables.
- Make sure all foods like meat, poultry, and eggs are well cooked.
- Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk or juice.
- Be vary careful around raw foods like sushi, shellfish, and vegetable sprouts.
- Toss anything that looks slimy or moldy, especially produce.
You may deal with mouth sores or swallowing issues while going through certain types of treatment. If this is the case, there are some methods that may help you maintain your daily caloric and nutrient goals:
- Use a soft toothbrush to take care of your dental health.
- Talk with your doctor about steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage the pain and symptoms.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Limit acidic juices and fruits like lemons and orange juice.
- Focus on small meals and foods that are easy to chew, like yogurt, smoothies, and pureed soups.
Treating kidney cancer can take a lot of time and energy, but solid nutrition can help you on your journey.
A balanced, nutrient-dense diet is important for most people, including people living with kidney cancer. But there are a few nutritional caveats you may want to discuss with your doctor, such as recommended protein amounts, high-phosphorus foods, and salt intake.
Consult with your doctor or healthcare team before making any major changes to your diet. Also, report any new side effects that you experience as soon as possible.