One possible side effect of chemotherapy is a loss of appetite. The appetite loss can be due to other possible side effects of treatment, such as nausea, general fatigue, or mouth sores. Whatever the reason, it can leave you with no interest in eating. Although it isn’t good to stop eating for days at a time, what can you do?

How can you get your needed vitamins, minerals, enzymes, carbohydrates, and other nutrients without eating? One way is to drink them as smoothies or juices.

Smoothies are made by whizzing raw ingredients together in a blender. Juices are made by passing raw ingredients through a juicing machine, which separates the juice from the fiber.

There are benefits to both types of drink but when you have no interest in eating, juice is probably the best approach. Because there’s no fiber in juice, the nutrients of the raw fruit and vegetables are concentrated into a surprisingly small amount of liquid. The lack of fiber also means that the juice doesn’t need to be digested in the same way that whole fruits and vegetables do, so juices deliver their goodness into your body very efficiently within minutes. It’s a win-win situation: a small amount of intensely nutritious juice packs a huge amount of benefits. Drinking just one small glass of juice a day can provide powerful antioxidants that support your body’s natural cleansing mechanisms, give you energy, and can take the pressure off when those around you are encouraging you to eat.

When a relative was going through chemotherapy, I wanted to do whatever I could to support her. She and I agreed that I would prepare a daily juice for her. I’d never juiced anything before, but how difficult could it be? The first thing I did was to borrow a juicer and start improvising, using fruits and vegetables that were in my fridge. After making a couple of undrinkable juices that were heavy on kale, cauliflower, and not much else, I realized that if you’re making juice drinks (“juicing”) you need to use discretion when deciding on the ingredients – like most things in life, they’re not created equally! For instance, the juice from scallions is incredibly strong, and a little goes a very long way, whereas the juice from apples is light and refreshing and is a good basic ingredient for many juice drinks. That’s when I came to my senses and bought The Big Book of Juices by Natalie Savona. 

Like the title suggests, it’s big – over 400 recipes to choose from. The book contains useful general information about juices and smoothies (and recipes for both, even though the title references juices only), a very handy nutrient chart that shows the benefits and sources of each nutrient listed, an ailments chart that shows suggested juices and smoothies to help combat common illnesses, and a comprehensive index.

Better yet, as part of each recipe it shows the main vitamins, minerals, and key nutrients provided by the drink.

But the feature I like best of all is the star rating system it uses to give each drink a score for its energy-boosting, detoxing and immunity-boosting properties, and its benefits to the digestive system and skin.

After my bumpy beginning I had felt overwhelmed by which ingredients to use in order to get the most nutritional value, and it was this feature in the book that helped me figure it out. Before I read it, I had started to think I’d buy store-made juice instead of making it fresh at home, but then I learned that the store-made juice is often days old with lower nutritional and anti-oxidant levels. Fresh juice made at home is definitely best, and it gives you many more options for customizing the ingredients.

My relative’s chemo treatments had just started, so I had 15 weeks of daily juicing ahead of me. That’s a lot of drinks, a lot of fruits and vegetables to buy, a lot of planning, and I had no idea how to go about it.

I read the book and then, being who I am, I created a schedule – which basically started as a chart that indicated the dates of the scheduled infusion appointments. Then I figured out that for the days leading up to an infusion, I would use the recipes that scored high on boosting energy and immunity, and for the days immediately following an infusion, I would use the recipes that scored high on detoxifying and digestion. For the remaining days, I used recipes that scored generally high in whichever area seemed important. After a couple of treatment cycles (approximately five weeks) we’d figured out which recipes worked best (we tweaked most of them a tiny bit), and I repeated the schedule of drinks through the end of the treatment. Repeating the same drinks every three weeks made the shopping and planning much simpler.

It wasn’t always easy – there were many days when it was a struggle for her to drink the juice and as a compromise, we gave ourselves Sundays off – we were both glad of the break.

There was also a bit of a struggle because she wanted sweeter juices than I wanted her to have. I felt it was important that the juice delivered every possible benefit it could (we were asking a lot from those six fluid ounces after all) and I wanted the juice to be made from more vegetables than fruit. The reason is that, with vegetables, the glycemic load is lower, which means that your blood sugar will spike less, which is a good thing at any time but especially when an active cancer is concerned. (The absence of fiber is what makes the content go straight into your blood stream and why it’s a mixed blessing – it’s what makes the juice a super shot of goodness, while at the same time making the glycemic load higher than in a smoothie with the same ingredients.) The other reason it raises the glycemic load is the absence of healthy fats, such as almond butter or avocado. But when your system is compromised due to cancer treatment, the super shot of nutrients from a juice drink is many times more beneficial than the temporary issue caused by increased blood sugar.

We eventually found a compromise, using things like fresh ginger or lemon juice to make the juice more palatable to her. We also discovered that the juice was easier for her to drink if it was really cold. All of these things were personal preference and easily accommodated – the important thing was that she drank the juice and benefitted from it. Even though it probably wasn’t the perfect approach, we all felt relieved that even on days when she didn’t eat anything else, her body was getting some good nutritional support.

What was also at least as important was the emotional support she received from our juicing endeavors. She appreciated that I was juicing on her behalf. We lived close by and she got to visit with my husband for a few minutes each day when he would deliver the drink to her. It was important for her to still feel a part of a community; she’d had to drop out of her book groups and other social activities for the duration of her treatment and her world had shrunk a lot. Juicing provided even bigger benefits than we’d hoped.

Why not try a juice today? A super shot of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, nutrients, and delicious flavor is a good thing at any time. Treat yourself!

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