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Managing diarrhoea when you have lung cancer

By Nicole Erickson M.Sc, Registered Dietitian


What foods are good for managing diarrhoea?

Nutrition plays a supportive role in alleviating the symptoms that come with diarrhoea and can, in some cases, help to thicken watery stools.

  • It is important to ensure that you remain hydrated when you experience diarrhoea. Drink something every hour in order to avoid dehydration
  • Recommended liquids include: Mild, clear liquids such as broths made from bouillon cubes, canned soups, watered down clear fruit juices such as apple juice, herbal teas, and/or electrolyte-containing rehydration solutions (available over the counter in pharmacies – note that sports drinks are often high in sugar, or do not contain the right balance of electrolytes. Therefore, they are not recommended)
  • Generally, avoid foods that seem to make your diarrhoea worse – try keeping a diary to see if there’s any link between what you eat, when you eat, anything you did after eating (e.g. walking, resting, lying down, etc.), and how you feel afterwards
  • Foods that contain pectin can help bind watery stools. Carrot juice, carrot soup, applesauce, grated apples, and blueberries are ideal. Consider adding dried blueberries to your cereal, or pouring hot water over them to make tea, and/or stir applesauce or grated apples into your porridge
  • Mild foods such as bananas, rice, crackers, noodles and boiled potatoes are often well tolerated
  • Foods high in lactose may, in some cases, contribute to diarrhoea. Try reducing milk products for 24 hours and see if it makes a difference. Instead try flavoured gelatine desserts, sherbet, ice pops and broth-based sauces instead of cream-based sauces
  • Bread and rolls made from refined, white pasta flour; pasta; and instant rice are easy to digest. Consider serving these with cooked carrot slices, cooked fennel, or carrot soup
  • Cooked and/or canned fruit and vegetables tend to be easier to tolerate. In general, root vegetables, courgette (zucchini), pumpkin, acorn squash, and fennel tend to be well tolerated. Avoid dried fruits and fresh fruits like pineapple, peaches, and melons, salads, and raw vegetables
  • Avoid fatty, spicy, and greasy foods such as meats with fatty skin, salsas, relishes, spicy spreads, and spicy meals
  • Peas, corn, beans, and lentils should be avoided

What foods are good for managing constipation?

Before worrying if you are constipated, first asses if your food and drink intake has been decreased over the previous few days. Decreased food intake and being less active can lead to fewer bowel movements – but this does not necessarily mean you are constipated. 

While diet modification can be beneficial for relieving constipation, high fibre diets can sometimes be contraindicated for cancer patients. Consider asking your care team to prescribe an appropriate over the counter medication for you, such as fiber-based laxatives, osmotic laxatives, or stool stimulants. These can be used along with dietary modification to alleviate symptoms.

You may also find the following advice helpful:

  • Eating regular meals can help regulate your digestive system
  • Drinking a glass of cold, or lukewarm water when you wake up in the morning can help stimulate a bowel movement
  • Be sure to drink enough fluids: 2 liters each day. Recommended drinks include prune juice, water, fruit juice, and frozen liquids such as ice pops (popsicles), gelatin, or fruit sorbets
  • Mix prunes (3–4 pieces daily) into your cereals, porridges, yoghurt, or baked goods
  • Sour milk products such as buttermilk or yoghurt may help regulate the lower intestine, and encourage bowel movements
  • Insoluble and soluble fiber help increase the bulk of the stool. Foods with fiber include wheat bran, oats, flax seed, whole-grain breads, beans, and cereals, fruits and vegetables (cooked with skins and peels on), popcorn, and lentils. Items such as flax seeds, wheat germ, and oats can be added to cereals, baked goods, sauces, casseroles, and stews. Start with 1–2 Teaspoons per day, and if this is well tolerated slowly increase the amount

Note: if you increase your fiber intake, you must also increase your intake of liquids at the same time.
Careful: make sure that a high-fiber diet is right for you. Talk to your physician before increasing your fiber intake. Do not increase your fiber intake if you have no appetite, or if you have problems chewing or swallowing, or if you get full very quickly, or have ever been told that you need a low-fiber, low-residue diet.
Tip: if you are taking nutrition supplements, ask your physician if they contains fiber. If they don’t, consider switching to a supplement containing fiber.

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