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Nutrition & Cancer Treatment

When you have cancer, good nutrition takes on an even greater role. Good nutrition will help you maintain your strength and weight, better handle your treatments, and will boost your immune system (helping with healing and repair). Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may make it difficult for you to get the nutrients you need from the foods you eat. Since everyone is different, not everyone will experience these side effects to treatment. If you do, use the tips below to handle the effects as they occur.

Possible Side Effects from Treatment

Feeling full all the time (loss of appetite):

  • Eat small frequent meals, such as 6–8 small meals/snacks during the day.
  • Eat slowly and chew thoroughly to prevent becoming full too quickly. Limit the number of liquids you drink at meals.
  • Drink liquids between meals. Choose liquids of high nutritive value, such as juices, milkshakes, or Boost/Ensure.
  • Keep high-calorie snacks handy to eat when you are hungry. Try peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, granola bars.

Changes in the way food tastes:

  • Use acidic foods such as lemon wedges or other citrus fruits or juices to stimulate taste buds or to help cover very salty or sweet tastes.
  • If red meat tastes different, try chicken, turkey, fish, or eggs for protein. Use different marinades such as sweet and sour sauce to change the taste of meats.
  • Use strong seasonings, such as onion, garlic, and chili powder, when preparing foods. Try using oils, butter, or sugar, or try using plastic utensils to help make food taste less like metal. Hide bitter tastes with sugar or maple syrup.
  • Drink liquids or suck on candies to eliminate bad taste.
  • Rinse your mouth often with baking soda and salt water (mix 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda in a quart of water).
  • Eat frozen fruits such as cantaloupe, grapes, and watermelon.

Nausea and vomiting:

  • Eat small, frequent meals, and avoid drinking liquids at meals.
  • Avoid unpleasant odors, and avoid fried, greasy, or spicy foods.
  • Try cooler foods instead of those that are cooked.
  • Eat dry foods, such as crackers, toast, dry cereals every 2 – 3 hours.


  • Eat breakfast and choose high-fiber foods for meals and snacks.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Hot liquids may be particularly helpful.
  • Exercise and eat at regular times each day.


  • Pay attention to foods that may cause diarrhea. This may be raw vegetables and dairy products. Avoid high fiber and fatty foods. Avoid eating the skin of fresh fruits, dried fruits, and nuts.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to eat more high potassium foods such as bananas, potatoes, and orange juice.
  • Diarrhea may cause your body to lose a lot of water; be sure to drink fluids between meals.

Sore mouth and throat:

  • Choose soft foods or use a blender to puree your foods.
  • Avoid rough, course, or dry foods. Moisten foods with soups, thin gravies, butter, or cream sauces.
  • Cold foods may be soothing. Suck on frozen grapes, popsicles, ice chips, or sour lemon drops.
  • Use a straw to drink liquids.