Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Staying nourished during cancer treatment

  • Recruit a nutrition team. A metabolic support team can help you stay nourished throughout treatment and manage other conditions alongside cancer, such as diabetes. For example, an oncology dietitian can suggest a well-balanced diet and a naturopathic clinician can recommend appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation.
  • Assess nutrition early on. It's important to address any nutritional problems as early as possible, before malnourishment sets in. A dietitian can provide a nutrition assessment to evaluate your nutrition status, identify micronutrient needs or inadequacies, and determine the most appropriate nutrition interventions for you.
  • Don't force yourself to eat. It can be difficult to make dietary changes if you don't have an appetite or if you’re experiencing nausea, mouth sores or other symptoms. Take your time when eating, chewing slowly and thoroughly. Try to eat what appeals to you whenever you can and take advantage of days when you have a good appetite.
  • Adjust your eating patterns. If your appetite is better in the morning, eat earlier in the day. To regulate bowel movements, try to eat at the same time each day. Instead of large meals, eat small, frequent meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Since your taste buds may change often, keep a variety of foods on hand.
  • Make healthy food choices. Eating a well-balanced diet can help the body tolerate treatments, fight infection and rebuild tissue. Choose healthy foods that are high in protein and calories. Try a plant-based diet, whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Some high-protein snacks include peanut butter and crackers, cheese and crackers, and nuts.
  • Consider your symptoms. Pay attention to your symptoms. If you’re constipated, slowly increase fiber and water intake. If foods taste strong, try plain crackers and toast. If foods taste bland, sour-tasting foods can stimulate your taste buds. If gas is a problem, limit carbonated beverages and cruciferous vegetables. If foods taste metallic, use plastic utensils. If you have mouth sores, avoid acidic drinks.
  • Avoid unhealthy habits. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, which can impair your immune system, make taste changes worse, and cause dehydration. Stay away from white, refined products, simple sugars, cakes, candy, processed foods, red meats, caffeine, and foods that are hot, greasy, fried, spicy, and fatty.
  • Get creative. Experiment with different foods that smell and taste good to you. Try flavoring foods with seasonings and spices to improve the taste. If you can’t eat solid foods, try liquid or powdered meal replacements, shakes and smoothies.
  • Stay hydrated. Cancer and its treatment can make you dehydrated, which can cause nausea, constipation, and other side effects. Try to drink plenty of fluids (e.g., 8-10 glasses of water) each day. Also try unsweetened juice, ginger ale, broths, or sports drinks. If swallowing is difficult, suck on ice chips or popsicles.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is important for staying on your treatment schedule. If you feel up to it (and if your doctor permits), try light exercise each day to increase muscle. A rehabilitation therapist can help develop an appropriate exercise program for you.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Rinse your mouth often, especially before and after meals, to keep it clean and remove any bad tastes or odors. Gently brush your teeth, gums and tongue with a soft bristled toothbrush before and after meals. Sugar-free mints, gum, lemon drops, etc. can help relieve mouth dryness.
  • Make mealtime comfortable. Eat in a comfortable, relaxed environment. Don't eat in a room that is too warm or has strong cooking odors, which can trigger nausea. Wear loose-fitting clothing. Eat in a seated or upright position. To keep mealtime interesting, vary the time, place, and surroundings.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.