July 31, 2013

A healthy diet with a variety of foods including fruits, veggies and protein, helps to give your body the reserves it needs to keep your strength up during cancer treatment. A healthy diet can help to rebuild your body’s tissues, keep your immune system strong to fight off infection, and also help some of the treatment side effects. Below are a few tips from women who have gone through breast cancer treatment.

  • Make Every Bite Count- choose nutrient dense food instead of calorie dense food. Example: Salad vs. Bag of Chips
  • Keep stool nearby- use a stool or chair to rest while you cook
  • Take a Multivitamin- talk to your Doctor about a good multivitamin if you are having a hard time eating enough food
  • Liquid Protein Supplements- ask your Doctor or a registered dietician about options for a liquid protein shake to help give you that needed boost
  • Meals on Wheels Service- Check to see if you qualify for “Meals on Wheels” services or other like services in your area
  • Buy in Bulk- when you feel well enough to go shopping, buy several packages of food that will stay fresh to eliminate store trips as often.

During cancer treatment, you can experience side effects that are unpleasant and can affect your diet. The links below will give you some tips if you are experiencing these side effects:

Side-effects Tips

Nausea and Vomiting

Don’t force yourself to eat or drink if you are feeling nauseated or have been vomiting. It’s actually a good idea to wait a few hours if you are vomiting often. Along the way, try some small sips of water or ginger ale. When you are feeling a bit better, try sipping on some chicken broth, sports drink or even some jello to help keep you hydrated.

Sometimes the smell of cooking food can trigger the nausea. If this is happening, see if a family member or friend could precook food and bring it to you or stay away from the kitchen while food is being prepared.

Tips for Nausea/Vomiting

  • Eat small meals frequently
  • Eat food cold or at room temp (reduces smell)
  • Rinse mouth before and after meals to rid of bad taste in mouth
  • Sit up for an hour after eating to reduce nausea
  • Eat dry foods (crackers, toast, dry cereal)
  • Eat “cool” foods and not spicy foods
  • Don’t eat foods that are very sweet, greasy or fried


While receiving treatment, your eating and activity habits may change. These changes can affect your bowel movements causing constipation. Some chemo medications can also cause constipation. If you notice you are having a difficult time or haven’t had any bowel movements for three days then contact your physician. There are also a few dieting tips that could help with this side effect.

  • Drink more fluids: 8-12 glasses of fluids(water, juice, tea) will help keep you hydrated as well as keep your bowels moving
  • Eat more high fiber food: whole grain breads and cereals, bran, beans, fresh raw veggies (If you increase Fiber remember to increase Fluids as well)
  • Drink caffeine in moderation


Diarrhea can be an unwelcome side effect of chemotherapy. Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping your electrolytes up will help fight dehydration from continuous diarrhea. Remember that if diarrhea continues longer than 24 hours or if you have severe pain and cramping to always call your physician.

  • Try a clear liquid diet: clear liquids keep the bowels from working too hard and prevent irritation
  • Eat small, frequent meals: smaller amounts can be easier to digest
  • Eat food high in pectin (applesauce, bananas, yogurt): Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that helps reduce diarrhea
  • Eat foods high in sodium: Salt helps to retain some fluid to prevent dehydration
  • Avoid caffeinated, alcoholic, or carbonated beverages or very hot or cold foods. They can irritate the digestive tract
  • Avoid tobacco products: irritate the digestive tract
  • Avoid high-fat, fried, greasy and rich food: promote diarrhea

Sore Mouth/Throat

Chemo can sometimes cause sores in your mouth or throat. These sores can get irritated and even infected by certain foods you eat. Sores and dry mouth can make eating a very difficult task.

  • Eat soft, bland, creamy foods: cream based soups, cheeses, yogurt, milkshakes, pudding, ice cream
  • Soak some foods to ease swallowing: let your cereal set a few extra minutes in the milk before eating, dip toast in your egg yolk, add gravy to meats.
  • Chop food up: Chop meats up or put in a blender so less chewing is needed to ease pain from mouth sores
  • Eat cooked veggies and canned fruit
  • Eat chilled foods: popsicles, applesauce, pudding, sherbet
  • Avoid tart, acidic or salty foods: These foods can sting if there are any open sores
  • Avoid “rough” foods: dry toast, pretzels, granola can cause irritation in a sore mouth or throat
  • Avoid spices

Change in sense of Taste or Smell

Chemo can alter taste and smell receptors causing you to dislike certain foods. These changes can last the entire treatment. Your senses of taste and smell usually return to normal weeks to months after treatment has stopped.

  • Try new foods: you may develop a strong dislike to some of your favorite foods. On a day where you are feeling better, try some different foods to see if they are more appealing to your senses
  • Have someone cook for you or eat already prepared foods: Sometimes the smell of cooking food can be overwhelming and cause other signs and symptoms (nausea/vomiting) to flare
  • Try eating cold food: cold foods are not as likely to have a strong odor
  • Rinse your mouth
  • Eat with plastic utensils to eliminate the “metallic” taste
  • Try different sources of protein: red meat, chicken, pork, fish, soy and eggs. Find what suits you best
  • Eat fresh veggies: eliminates a metallic taste from the can

Feeling Fatigue

Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment and it can be difficult to battle. It is more than just “being tired”. Fatigue is a daily lack of energy that you can feel throughout the whole body. Complex and varied factors cause fatigue even after breast cancer treatment is completed. If you’re fighting fatigue it is important that you get enough protein as well as total calories. Vitamins and minerals will also aid in fighting fatigue.

  • Cook in bulk: when you are feeling better and have the energy, make a large batch of something nutritious and freeze in single serving containers.
  • Eat more when feeling well: try to eat your biggest meal when you have the most energy and biggest appetite
  • Eat snacks throughout the day to boost your energy
  • Add cheese to meals for extra protein
  • Use milk instead of water when possible to increase protein
  • Eat hard boiled eggs
  • Add several kinds of beans to soups or chili for more protein

Protein is your best defense to fatigue. Increase your protein intake by eating lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, nuts, dried beans, and soy!

Weakened Immune System

Eating a healthy diet during and after cancer treatment can help your immune system stay on track and return to its best when you’re finished with cancer treatment. The immune system is responsible for helping you fight of infections that can occur during cancer. Researchers are studying nutrition as a means of reducing cancer risk, extending survival, and increasing quality of life.

Protein is important in helping the immune system stay strong: lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts.
Some foods contain certain levels of bacteria that can be harmful to the body on chemo. As a rule, most registered dieticians recommend avoiding the following due to bacteria levels:

  • Raw or under-cooked foods (meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, chicken)
  • Foods containing raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products
  • Soft cheeses (feta, brie, gorgonzola)
  • Unwashed raw fruits and veggies
  • Raw honey
  • Unpasteurized beer
  • Uncooked brewers yeast

Avoid salad bars, delis, buffets or potluck gatherings which have a higher risk of improperly stored or refrigerated foods.