Tips for Eating During Cancer Treatment

By: Joyce Hendley, M.S.  |  September/October 2016

If you are going through treatment for cancer, there's a good chance you'll have eating problems at some point. Both radiation and chemotherapy can affect the cells in your mouth and digestive tract or make you so tired that eating feels like a lot of work. If you feel nauseous, smaller meals and eating easy-to-digest foods like pretzels, saltines and rice might help. Be sure to talk to your medical team about your nutrition questions and concerns. There are ways you can combat some other common eating challenges that come along with cancer treatment. Here are some tried-and-true tips to help you optimize nutrition and minimize stress during your treatment.
Include protein at every meal. Protein helps your body repair damaged cells, prevent infections and slow weight and muscle loss. For extra protein between meals, snack on nuts, yogurt, cheese or hard-boiled eggs. Other protein-rich options: add beans to soups and salads or top casseroles or vegetable dishes with nuts, crumbled hard-boiled eggs or cheese.
Related: High-Protein Dinner Recipes
Stoke your appetite. If you don't feel like eating, fresh air and physical activity may boost your hunger. When you do eat, go for small portions, which won't seem so overwhelming. Try a smoothie or some soup if solid foods aren't appetizing. Make the most of mornings, when appetite and energy levels are often highest.
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Experiment with different tastes. Cancer treatments can affect how food tastes. To lessen metallic taste, avoid canned foods, use plastic utensils and glass cookware, and add a squeeze of lemon or a little vinegar to meals. Tame bitter flavors with a little salt or sugar. Try new dishes and play with spices.
Related: Healthy Soup Recipes
Seek out easy-to-swallow foods. Dry mouth and a sore throat are common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Try soft foods like pasta, soups, stews, yogurt, fruits and well-cooked vegetables and purees. Alternatively, moisten your foods with gravies and sauces. Your health-care team can help you with other solutions like soothing mouth rinses and "thickeners" to add to foods so they're easier to get down.
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