Your Cancer Diet When Undergoing Treatment

Nutrition to Fight CancerA healthy diet can quickly take a back seat during cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments can be hard on the body, which makes it difficult to get the nutrients you need. Although cancer treatment effects can differ for each patient, common side effects that can make it difficult to eat healthy may include:

  • Nausea
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Taste Change
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea

However, a healthy diet is more important than ever when undergoing treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, proper nutrition can help patients maintain weight, lower risk of infection, improve energy and better tolerate some side effects.

Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet

When trying to improve your own diet, it’s important to keep in mind that cancer is an individual experience. What tastes good or appeals to one person may make someone else feel worse. The best place to start is with the healthy choices you already like and take small steps that will help combat side effects and boost your diet, including:

  1. Eating small meals or snacks
  2. Making healthy choices
  3. Making simple adjustments to your diet
  4. Talking to a dietitian

1. Eat small meals or snacks

Nausea, heartburn or diarrhea can make eating or drinking seem impossible. Try eating small meals or snacks to make the task seem less daunting and help you feel more comfortable.

2. Make healthy choices

When you are able to eat, be sure to make healthy choices:

  • Avoid high-fat or spicy foods, which can trigger nausea and heartburn.
  • Find vegetables that taste good and are easy on your stomach. Lightly steamed or blanched veggies may help ease heartburn compared to raw veggies.
  • Pair complex carbohydrates with a lean protein. Try whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or eggs and whole grain toast.
  • Reach for healthy snacks, such as nuts, applesauce, yogurt, cheese or brown rice.
  • Try to eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables. Pick options that taste good to you and are easy on your stomach.

3. Make simple adjustments

Simple choices throughout the day can help make eating a little easier, including:

  • Staying elevated after eating.
  • Eating when you’re hungry. If you can’t face breakfast in the morning, but get hungry at dinnertime, plan light snacks for the morning. Then, try to eat more later in the day.
  • Staying hydrated. Drinking water can help manage some side effects, like constipation, but can sometimes make others worse. Take small sips throughout the day to stay hydrated without upsetting your stomach.
  • Eating food at room temperature. Food that’s too hot or cold can be tough on nausea and heartburn. Let food cool off a bit before eating.

4. Reach out for help

It can be difficult for some patients to find that balance between managing their side effects and eating healthy. A dietitian can help sort through your questions and side effects to build a strong and healthy diet.

The dietitians at Winship Cancer Institute help support patients before, during and after treatment by working closely with them to create individualized nutrition plans.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center for Georgia — the highest designation given by the NCI to cancer centers in the nation. Winship offers expertise in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment with the most advanced therapies. Winship is where you get treatments years before others can. Our expert team coordinates every detail of your visit to meet your individualized treatment plan. Visit or call 1-888-WINSHIP for an appointment.

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