Good nutrition – eating a variety of foods that gives the body the nutrients it needs- is an important part of cancer treatment in helping to keep up strength and energy, maintain weight and the body’s store of nutrients, and lower the risk of infection, however cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation have side effects that can affect your eating habits, making it difficult to take in and maintain the nutrients you need to help fight cancer.   Common side effects include loss of appetite, changes in taste and smell of food, mouth sores, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and fatigue.

The American Cancer Society provides these nutrition tips to help combat side effects of cancer treatments:

  • Unless instructed otherwise, eat a small meal or snack before treatment.
  • Take a small meal or snack to eat after treatment.
  • Drink plenty of fluids- especially if you have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Eat your largest meal when you feel best during the day.
  • If you experience nausea, avoid high fat foods and foods with strong odors.
  • If you have trouble keeping food down, a multiple vitamin may be helpful, but check with your doctor first before taking any vitamins.
  • If you experience weight loss, try to eat nutrient-dense foods as tolerated including meat, dried beans, dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains; try high calorie goodies such as milkshakes; try drinking commercial nutritional supplement which are good sources of calories, vitamins and minerals- check with your doctor or dietitian before starting to determine the right choice for you.
  • Try to eat small, frequent snacks throughout the day instead of 3 large meals if you are not feeling well.
  • Keep high-calorie, high protein snacks on hand such as peanut butter, cheese, icecream, pudding, nuts, granola bars, hard-cooked eggs, canned chicken or tuna, yogurt.
  • Eat your favorite foods any time during the day- such as breakfast for dinner if that is what you prefer.

People with cancer often need to add extra calories and protein to their foods to pack the greatest nutrient punch in the foods they can tolerate and eat.  Here are some tips to increase calorie and protein:

  • Add grated cheese to potatoes, vegetables, and soups.
  • Use milk instead of water to prepare hot cereals and soups.
  • Include cream or cheese sauce on vegetables and pasta.
  • Add powdered milk to creamed soups, mashed potatoes, puddings and casseroles.
  • Add yogurt or cottage cheese to smoothies.
  • Add leftover cooked meat to soups, casseroles, salads and omelets.
  • Spread peanut butter or almond butter on toast, fruit, or blend in a milkshake.
  • Sprinkle seeds or nuts on desserts, vegetables, salads or pasta.
  • Melt butter over potatoes, pasta, rice and cooked vegetables.
  • Add sour cream to baked potatoes and vegetables.
  • Add jelly and honey to bread and crackers.
  • Add jam to fruit.
  • Use regular mayonnaise and salad dressing on sandwiches.


During cancer treatment, you may have to rely on foods and snacks that are less healthy sources of calories than you are used to consuming to get the nutrients your body needs to heal, especially if you experience side effects.   Don’t be afraid to make changes to your eating habits and enjoy the foods you are able to tolerate.  Your doctor or dietitian can help you make the food choice that are right for you throughout your treatment.