5 Foods to Eat When Chemo Steals Your Appetite

By Heather LaBruna
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

Food may be the last thing on your mind during chemotherapy, yet eating right is critical. Good nutrition can reduce chemo-related symptoms, help fight infections, boost energy and better  treatment outcomes. These five foods fit the bill.

Note: If your favorite food doesn’t taste right during chemotherapy, stop eating it until your treatment ends. Otherwise, when chemo is done, you still may dislike it. If you’re having difficulty eating a balanced diet, talk with your oncologist, who may suggest an appetite-stimulating medication or that you meet with a registered dietitian who has worked with cancer patients and can suggest healthy and palate-pleasing foods.

Peanut butter is a good source of protein, with 8 grams of protein and 188 calories in a 2-tablespoon serving. Get your fill by spreading it on bread or toast, apple or banana slices, crackers, or celery. Or use it as a dip for pretzels.

Nutritional-supplement drinks, such as instant-breakfast mixes and shakes, go down smoothly if you’re having trouble swallowing or chewing. Preparing these with whole milk allows you to take in more calories and fat, important if weight loss is an issue. Even better, they’re usually a cinch to prepare.

Poultry, fish, and lean beef and pork are excellent ways to incorporate more protein into your diet, so add them to soups or casseroles. You may also opt for tuna or chicken sandwiches if warm dishes aren’t appealing. Not a meat eater? Throw protein-rich beans, such as pinto and kidney, into main-dish entrees or salads.

Fruit is a healthy part of any diet. Instead of selecting whole fruit, pick dried varieties, which are calorie-dense and give you the most caloric bang for your buck. Mouth sores are a common chemo side effect so avoid citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and tangerines) that can irritate these sores (citrus fruits can also cause constipation). Opt for blander fruits like bananas. And always be sure to wash fresh fruit before eating it.

Cheese, especially those that are full fat, is high in protein and calories and can top salads or be added to casseroles. Cubes of cheese are also an excellent snack. But avoid soft cheeses, such as Stilton and Gorgonzola, which are more likely to be made with unpasteurized milk. This milk may be contaminated with listeria, which can cause food poisoning. You can opt for cottage cheese, too—it’s high in protein, soft and easy to chew.

Published March 2014


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Foods to Eat When Chemo Steals Your Appetite
8 Foods to Nix Chemo-Induced Nausea

12 Ways to Eat Right During Chemo
Eat Right for Best Results
5 Nutrients to Get During Chemo
Get the Nutrition You Need!