Guidelines on Maintaining Nutritional Health during Chemotherapy

Eating well during chemotherapy can be very difficult for some people who experience associated symptoms of intense nausea and/or other gastrointestinal stresses.
Here are some guidelines to help you get the nutrition you need to help maintain optimal health and preserve energy.

The side effects of chemotherapy can vary from individual to individual,
but eating problems are fairly common and could lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and weight fluctuations— which can hinder a person’s health and wellbeing.1 Eating problems during chemotherapy are usually attributed to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, new sensitivities to tastes and smells, dry mouth, and/or sore throat.2 What and how one eats when undergoing chemo obviously depends on the side effects he or she is experiencing, but also can be related to the type of cancer being treated; what, if any, adjunctive treatments are being used; and what, if any, reactions the person has to the treatment(s). Eating well during cancer treatments can help preserve strength and energy, maintain a healthy weight and storage of nutrients, assist with the tolerance of side effects, lower
the risk the of infection and sickness, and 2help the overall recovery process. Thus, the importance of proper nutrition cannot be understated. Here, we’ve assembled some basic nutrition guidelines for someone undergoing chemotherapy that will aid in overall recovery and help maintain a positive outlook and sense of well-being.

Proteins conserve energy and organ function, prevent muscle atrophy, and

promote tissue growth. Tofu, unsalted nuts, quinoa, beans, legumes, edamame, and nut milks are packed sources. Try to incorporate  protein into every meal or snack.
as simple as topping a salad with nuts and beans, snacking on some nut-based cheese, or spreading nut butter on a piece of toast. Puddings and custards can be made from nut milks for challenging eating days.


are essential energy sources for the body. The type of carbohydrates you should consume depends on the side effects 3 you’re experiencing. For diarrhea, focus on carbohydrates with soluble fiber (slows digestion), such as oats/oatmeal, starchy vegetables (peas, potatoes, corn), and white rice.3 For constipation, lentils; seeds; rye; whole wheat or whole grain crackers, pasta, and breads; unsalted nuts; brown or wild rice; and barley can help get the digestive tract moving along.3 Rice, breads, and crackers can ease nausea and vomiting as well. Other great sources of carbohydrates include quinoa, granola, leafy greens, and beans. Be creative with carbohydrates! Add other sources of nutrition (such as a protein and some veggies) to a rice and bean bowl or make granola bars with added fruits.

Fruits and Vegetables

contain antioxidants and fiber and can boost the immune system. They’re practical and can be the tastiest, easiest way to get necessary nutrients. Fruit can be turned into smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream. Fresh berries can be mixed together with nuts and seeds, oatmeal, or a nut-based yogurt. Dried fruit, bananas, a cleaned and microwaved sweet potato, or container of fruit salad are great on-the-go snacks. Leafy greens with other raw veggies can be used to create quick salads, pasta dishes, or hearty soups. Fruit smoothies and vegetable soups can not only help with pain from mouth sores2 and a sore throat but can be easily modified to best serve and individual’s nutritional needs.

Eating and Preparation Tips

• Reduce/eliminate intake of salt, added sugars, saturated fats, animal products, and excess alcohol.2

Avoid consuming foods or drinks past their expiration dates, with signs of mold, or that have been left out for more than two hours.2

  • Avoid raw foods (seafood, sushi), shelled nuts and seeds, bulk food bins at grocery stores, buffets, salad bars, and self-serve restaurants.2
  • Try eating small meals or lots of snacks throughout the day instead of a few big meals, if that feels more comfortable and doable, depending on appetite.2
  • Some people eat by the clock instead of waiting until they’re hungry to make sure they eat more.
  • Variance doesn’t have to be an everyday option; if one particular food or meal seems appealing, it’s alright to keep eating for a few days.2 In this case, incorporate liquid meal replacements or supplements prescribed by a physician that won’t interact with chemotherapy medications.2
  • When eating is challenging, try the previously suggested snacks and drink more fluids like water, fruit or vegetable juice, tea, or clear carbonated beverages throughout the day.2,4
  • Because the body is more susceptible to infections and sickness during chemotherapy, ensuring food and beverages are clear from potentially harmful pathogens is essential when preparing meals before, during, and after treatment. Wash hands, utensils, and any surfaces beforehand, use different cutting boards for each type of food, scrub raw fruits and vegetables before cooking, and soak berries, other fruits, and vegetables in water and rinse before eating.1-3 To prevent bacteria growth in frozen or already cooked food, place any leftovers in the fridge right after eating; soak frozen fruits and vegetables that aren’t going to be cooked (like for smoothies) in water; and thaw any frozen food in the fridge instead of letting it get to room temperature.2

Fast Fact

One in four Americans are now consuming less meat. In 2019, 23
percent of Americans ate less meat by either replacing meat with vegetables or consuming smaller portions. These dietary changes are primarily influenced by concern for health and the environment.

SOURE: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine site. One in four Americans are eating less meat. https:// are-eating-less-meat. Published January 27, 2020. NHR


1. The American Cancer Society site. Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. https://www. treatment/staying-active/nutrition/benefits.html. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

2. National Cancer Institute. Eating hints: before, during, and after cancer treatment. NIH Publication No. 18-7157. NCI Office of Communications and Public Liaison;2019:1-41.

3. BreastCancer.Org. Expert tips on eating well during chemotherapy. nutrition/during_treat/expert-qa. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

4. Stanford Health Care site. Nutrition services for cancer patients. clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/during-cancer- treatment/nutrition-during-chemo.html. Accessed 27 Jan 2020. NHR

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