Top 7 Diet Tips During Chemotherapy

Learn How to Deal with Chemo's Food Challenges

Chemotherapy drugs can really mess up your diet. There's poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sore mouth and an increased chance of getting an infection. So how should you plan your diet during chemotherapy? Here are some tips on eating while on treatment.

More Common Chemo Side Effects

1
Outsmart your poor appetite

fried egg
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Chemotherapy kills your appetite as surely as it kills cancer cells. The very thought of food may make your stomach turn. Try some of the following to make eating a more tolerable experience:

  • Get a little bit of exercise before your meals if you can. Take a walk around the block to try to stimulate your appetite.  
  • Variety can help – switch things up by trying new foods and recipes, or eating in a different location.
  • A bit of distraction helps too – eat with friends or watch a show on TV when eating alone.

2
Get your nausea under control

There's no need to suffer in silence.  There are several effective anti-nausea drugs that can be used during chemotherapy. If you feel that your nausea is not well controlled, speak to your doctor about it. You may need a combination of agents, but you can get the better of it.

Foods to Eat When You Have Diarrhea During Chemotherapy

3
Eat less food, more often

Nausea and poor appetite may prevent you from eating in large quantities. Have small meals, more frequently. If three larger meals seem hard to handle, have six smaller meals or snacks instead. Keep food within easy reach, so you don't have to work harder to take a bite.

4
Don't skimp on calories

Treatment takes a toll on your body. Even if you're not very active during treatment, you need plenty of calories to keep you going. This is not the time to choose "light" foods. Choose eggs, meat, milk, butter and cheese to keep up your supply of calories. Don’t shy away from fat. If you don’t feel like eating, drink high-calorie liquids, such as milkshakes or prepared nutritional shakes. 

5
Pump up the protein

Apart from burning calories, chemotherapy and other treatments that kill cells result in a lot of protein turnover in your body. You need to take in more proteins during chemotherapy than in your usual diet. Eating only fruits and vegetables will not get you all the proteins that you require. Eggs and meat are excellent sources of protein, as are nuts, beans and legumes. Milk and cheese are other good sources. Ask your doctor about protein supplements that you can get from a store.

6
Make sure that food is well cooked and heated

Chemotherapy suppresses your body’s defenses against infection, so be extra vigilant about food safety. Make sure that you don’t eat anything that is not thoroughly cooked. A well-cooked meal is also a well-sterilized meal. Cooking kills bacteria, and hot food is safe from most germs that cause bowel infections. Raw food can also be more difficult to digest, and may worsen your appetite. Avoid take-away food – it may not be freshly cooked.

7
Ensure cleanliness to prevent infections

The world is swarming with bacteria. Under normal circumstances, your body can tackle almost any germ. But when your defenses are down, you are at a high risk of infection. Make sure that you follow some simple precautions:

  • Wash your hands before cooking and eating.
  • Make sure that your utensils and knives are cleaned before cooking.
  • Keep raw food away from cooked food.
  • Refrigerate food whenever possible; don’t keep it lying out in the open.

More Food Safety Tips

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