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Eating Well

Nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment and recovery. Good nutrition allows a patient’s body to tolerate cancer therapy better and with fewer side effects. To learn more, read Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment from the National Cancer Institute, or view our food and nutrition factsheets.

Suggestions to Help Manage Common Side Effects

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Avoid or limit foods with strong odors. Eat foods cold or at room temperature.
  • Eat dry, bland foods such as crackers or toast often. Limit fried or spicy foods.
  • Eat small, frequent meals slowly. Relax after meals to allow foods to digest.
  • Avoid favorite foods when feeling nauseated. Eat them when you feel well.
  • After eating, loosen clothes, get fresh air, and don’t lie down.
  • Ask your health care provider for medication(s) to help control nausea and vomiting.

Taste alterations

  • Try cleaning your mouth before eating.
  • Experiment with different foods and flavors. Use more seasonings, herbs, and spices. Try adding onion, garlic, and other flavors to vegetables.
  • If sweet foods do not taste good, try sour, bitter, or tart flavorings. Try adding lemon, lime, and orange to meals.
  • Use sugar-free lemon drops, gum, or mints to counteract metallic or bitter tastes.
  • Try eating with plastic utensils to help reduce metallic tastes.

Sore mouth or throat

  • Drink plenty of liquids. Drink through a straw to bypass an irritated mouth.
  • Choose soft moist foods. Add extra gravies, cream sauces, or butter to meals. Cook food until soft and tender.
  • Use cold foods to soothe a sore mouth or throat.
  • Avoid irritating foods such as citrus fruits and juices; spicy or salty foods; and rough, coarse, or dry foods.
  • Rinse your mouth frequently to remove food and bacteria and promote healing. Ask your dentist about cleaning products for teeth and gums.

Fatigue

  • Prepare and freeze meals ahead of time.
  • Let friends or family members cook for you.
  • Keep easily accessible snack foods handy.
  • Use paper products or minimal dishes to reduce clean-up time.

berriesConstipation

  • Eat plenty of high fiber foods. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are good sources of fiber. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Gradually add fiber into your diet over eight weeks to a final goal of 25-30 grams fiber a day.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Prune juice may be beneficial.
  • Take walks and exercise regularly.
  • Ask your health care provider before adding any stool softeners or laxatives.

Diarrhea

  • Avoid excessive amounts of fiber or a rapid increase in fiber intake.
  • Try small frequent meals. Try adding bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, pasta, and potatoes to thicken stool. Limit gas-forming foods such as greasy, fried, or spicy items.
  • Replace fluid loss with liquids between meals.

Unplanned Weight Loss

  • Try to eat four to six small meals per day. Looking at a large meal can decrease appetite. Keep snacks available in your car, purse, or backpack.
  • Drink liquids between meals if you get full fast. Take breaks during meals.
  • If you have a good appetite, take advantage of it and eat up; you may not have an appetite later on. Appetite is often best in the morning, so eat a larger breakfast.
  • Focus on adding protein to your diet: cheese, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, meats, and beans.
  • Add high-calorie items to foods: powdered milk, honey, avocados, olive oil, margarine, butter, and peanut butter.
  • Use a high-protein supplement such as Carnation Instant Breakfast, Boost, or Ensure.
  • Be creative. Try making milkshakes or smoothies packed with protein and calories.

For more information, or for specific nutrition-related questions, call the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center at 801-587-4585.