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Starting Chemotherapy: 15 Nutrition Tips

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WebMD Feature

If you are undergoing chemotherapy, you want to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible during treatment.  What you eat during treatment can make a big difference in helping you achieve that goal.

“Chemotherapy and radiation treatments place their own burdens on the nutrition system in addition to the cancer itself,” explains Charlie Pieterick, RN, MS, ARNP, a nurse practitioner with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

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Everyone’s experience during chemotherapy is different, so WebMD offers a variety of nutrition and food tips to help you deal with unpleasant side effects.

Coping With Side Effects of Chemo

  • Keep Food Tasty. Chemo can do a number on your taste buds, making certain foods and drinks taste metallic or unpleasant. Water and meat are the two most common items that become distasteful during chemo, says Cara Anselmo, clinical dietitian at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. If it becomes difficult to drink plain water, try drinking flavored mineral water or add sliced lemon to tap water. If certain meats become difficult to enjoy, try other sources of protein such as eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, and fish.
  • Fight Constipation. While some people experience diarrhea with chemo, others deal with constipation. Keeping hydrated is important to help prevent constipation. Including all types of fiber in your diet also can be helpful. If you aren’t accustomed to large amounts of fiber, make sure to increase your fiber slowly. Getting some exercise -- even just a 20-minute walk -- can be a powerful intestinal stimulant.
  • Manage Weight Gain. Some cancer patients tend to gain weight during treatment, says Jennifer Koorenny, MS, RD, oncology dietitian for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She suggests low-fat meals, snacks, and lots of vegetables.
  • Improve Your Appetite. Many people undergoing chemo find that their appetites suffer. Since carbohydrates are usually digested well, Erika Connor, RD, clinical dietitian for the Stanford Cancer Center, recommends trying snacks such as hot cereals, toast with peanut butter or other nut butter, or pita bread with hummus. Other foods to consider include yogurt and blended soups.
  • Ease Diarrhea. If you are experiencing diarrhea, avoid greasy and fried foods, caffeine, sugary drinks and fruit juices, salad greens, raw produce, and sugar alcohols. Foods that are generally well-tolerated include oatmeal, most fruits without skin, sweet potatoes, and squash.
  • Keep a Food and Symptom Diary. Write down what you eat and drink, and record any symptoms you experience daily.  This will help you and your health care team identify what you are eating that may be causing nausea, constipation, or diarrhea. This way, medications and other dietary suggestions can be tried before problems escalate.

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