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General Nutrition Guidelines During Cancer Treatment

A healthy diet can help you feel better and stay stronger. It can also decrease side effects and support your immune system’s fight against cancer. The foods you choose to eat during cancer treatment will vary depending on side effects you're having. Overall, try to make food choices that give you enough fluid, calories, protein, and nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Calories will help you maintain your weight. Protein will help you rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm. Nutrients and fluids are vital for your body’s functioning.

These tips from the National Cancer Institute may be helpful if you have problems eating or lose your appetite during cancer treatment:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.

  • Eat high-protein and high-calorie foods including snacks.

  • Keep snacks on hand. Good choices are peanut butter crackers, cheese, nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit. 

  • Stay away from empty calorie foods, like soda.

  • To prevent nausea and eat more, do not drink liquids with your meals.

  • Try to eat when you are feeling the best, no matter what time of day.

  • Try high-calorie, high-protein drinks when you don't feel like eating.

  • Try to increase your appetite through light exercise.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about appetite stimulants, if needed.

  • Add extra calories and protein to food using foods like butter, skim milk powder, honey, or brown sugar.

  • Sit up or keep your head raised for at least 1 hour after eating.

  • Eat foods at room temperature.

  • Stay away from spicy foods or foods with strong odors.

Tell your healthcare providers about any eating problems you're having. They can often be treated. A registered dietitian can also help you figure out what to eat to get the nutrients you need.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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