Eating Well During Cancer Treatment
Chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments can be hard on your body. Fortunately, making healthy food choices can help you feel better and speed your recovery.
Choose Healthy Foods
"When you're being treated for cancer, it's important to avoid extreme diets that may leave you short on key nutrients," says Veronica McLymont, PhD, RD, director of food and nutrition services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet. Ask your oncologist or a nutritionist if you need extra calories and protein to keep your strength up during treatment.
- Choose whole grain breads and cereals.
- Drink 100% fruit or vegetable juices. (Make sure they are pasteurized because you may be more susceptible to germs while you’re getting cancer treatment.)
- Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.
- A few times a week, choose meatless meals such as vegetarian lasagna or vegetable stir-fry.
- Snack on carrot sticks, sweet pepper slices, and fresh or dried fruits.
- Have a leafy green salad with dinner.
- Limit sugary foods -- the kind with lots of calories but very little nutrition.
- Pick lean meats and fish more often than red meat and processed meats.
Try to Eat, Even If You Don't Have an Appetite
Lack of appetite is common during cancer treatment. Some treatments can even make food taste unpleasant. "Even though you don't feel like eating, it's important to get adequate nutrition," says Sarah Rafat, RD, a senior dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Here’s what to do:
- Choose high-calorie, nutrient-rich foods such as avocados, nuts, beans, seeds, puddings, and cooked cereals.
- Eat small meals throughout your day.
- Don’t wait until you're hungry to eat. Instead, eat at certain times of day.
- Keep your favorite foods close at hand.
- Make your meals look appealing. Add parsley, lemon slices, cherry tomatoes, and other colorful garnishes to your plate.
Ease Side Effects With Food
Certain foods can help ease the common discomforts from cancer treatment.
Conquer constipation by drinking water and eating high-fiber foods like beans, lentils, vegetables, and fresh or dried fruit.
Drive away diarrhea with bland foods such as rice, bananas, and apples. Drink water to stay hydrated.
Protect mouth sores and avoid dry mouth by grinding or pureeing foods to make them easier to swallow. Or eat foods that are already soft and mostly liquid, like soups and milk or yogurt shakes.
Nix nausea by choosing bland foods and foods without strong odors. Steer clear of greasy foods. Go easy on your stomach by eating small meals throughout the day. Drink plenty of water even if you are vomiting.