10 Ways Good Nutrition Helps Manage Multiple Myeloma

by Stephanie Stephens Health Writer

If you've been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, be your best self before treatment. Practice smart nutrition habits now, even if you didn't have stellar ones previously. According to Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health in New York, maintaining good nutrition may help prevent changes or interruption to your treatments; help preserve muscle and strength; and promote healing and immune system function. Certainly, you want every advantage as you go forward, to be the healthiest you can be.

Grilled chicken, rice, spicy chickpeas, avocado, cabbage, pepper buddha bowl on dark background.

Fill a great plate

A balanced diet is vital for good health and well being, to help you function, thrive, and be strong, says registered dietitian Edelina Bustamante, MS, RD, CDN of Perlmutter Cancer Center. The New American Plate from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is also anti inflammatory, to help minimize symptoms. Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, whole grains, or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein.

Woman shopping in grocery with list.

Strategize to optimize

If you've been eating well, the idea now is to optimize your nutrition, Bustamante says. Maybe you haven't required treatment yet, or you're starting with biological or chemotherapy, corticosteroids, a bone marrow transplant, or targeted therapy. Think of optimizing like you're preparing to run a race and win — you're in training to run that treatment course. Good nutrition can help you improve quality of life and treatment outcomes, as well as minimize potential side effects.

Iron (Fe) rich foods.

Be an iron man or woman

If you have multiple myeloma you may have anemia, or reduced amounts of iron in the blood, like 60 percent of patients first diagnosed, says the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

  • If you're anemic, eat more iron-rich lean beef, oysters, chicken and turkey, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Plants with iron include beans and lentils, tofu, baked potatoes, cashews, dark leafy greens, fortified breakfast cereals, and whole-grain and enriched breads.
pencil on meal schedule.

If you're 'not hungry'

Perhaps your treatment has caused you to lose your appetite or not ‘taste’ food the way you used to. Talk to your registered dietitian and remember food is actually an important part of treatment. Eat breakfast, eat smaller, more frequent meals, and add spices to enhance flavor. Don't eat alone, and if your doctor says ‘OK,’ include a glass of wine or beer pre-meal to stimulate appetite — as recommended, one drink per day for women, two for men.

Bananas and rice.

Firm things up

Medications including bortezomib and lenalidomide may cause loose stools, Bustamante says. You can help counter that with the BRAT diet, which is more binding: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, all easier on the body to digest and also bland. The BRAT diet treats your stomach kindly, and may help firm up your stool. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you continue to have loose stools or diarrhea.

Apple with measuring tape, weight and a scale: weight loss concept.

Watch your weight

Your doctor may have prescribed corticosteroids (steroids) for anti-inflammatory benefits and because they ‘fight’ myeloma cells. As a result, you may feel hungrier and may find yourself gaining weight. Don't panic. "The AICR plate model, if followed correctly, helps control weight because it emphasizes smart portion control with wise choices of healthy foods," says Bustamante. Exercise becomes even more important here: See our slideshows on exercising with multiple myeloma.

Man holding picture of kidney in front of body's actual kidney location.

Protect your kidneys

Multiple myeloma can raise kidney disease risk. According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, excess myeloma proteins secreted by myeloma cells reduce the kidney’s ability to filter the blood. The breakdown of bone can raise blood calcium levels — both actions strain kidney function. To help slow kidney disease progression, other nutrients such as sodium, potassium, and phosphorus may need to be reduced, says Bustamante. Talk to your registered dietitian about kidney function and diet.

Washing raw vegetables

Restrict your 'raw'

Be vigilant when you eat raw fruits and vegetables. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with warm soap and water, before you wash your food. Then wash or scrub all fruits and veggies under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking, says Bustamante. If the produce label on a bag of green leafy vegetables states it’s been pre-washed, rinse it again yourself under running water. Rinse all fruits and vegetables before you peel them. Cook all your meat, fish, and eggs completely.

Pharmacist adding warning to pill bottle.

Mind your medications

Some medications can interact with foods or certain vitamins and minerals, says Bustamante, so ask if you're not sure. For example, if you take:

  • Bortezomib: Avoid excessive amounts of green tea, jasmine tea, grapefruit and vitamin C supplements.
  • Dexamethasone: Eat complex instead of simple carbohydrates, limit sweetened drinks, and choose low or nonfat dairy products.
Stephanie Stephens
Meet Our Writer
Stephanie Stephens

Stephanie Stephens is a very experienced digital journalist, audio/video producer and host who covers health, healthcare and health policy, along with celebrities and their health, for a variety of publications, websites, networks, content agencies and other distinctive clients. Stephanie was accepted to THREAD AT YALE for summer 2018 to author and produce an investigative series. She is also active in the animal welfare community.