Healthy Eating During Chemo

By Kathy Gilligan
Reviewed by John D. Hainsworth, MD, and Roy S. Weiner, MD

“Help! I’ve lost my appetite!” That’s one of the most common complaints among folks being treated for cancer. Not to worry. You can regain your taste for food during treatment, says Jodi Buckman Weinstein, RD, author of Tell Me What to Eat Before, During and After Cancer Treatment (Career Press, 2010). And that’s important because eating well will help you feel stronger and healthier and enable you to heal faster.

Here are Jodi’s suggestions for getting past the most common cancer-treatment appetite busters.

Appetite buster: Your stomach is upset—nausea and vomiting make it difficult to keep food down.
Appetite enhancer: Try bland “bready” foods like crackers, pretzels, bagels, dry cereals, white bread or unbuttered toast. Mild soups, applesauce, white rice and baked or boiled potatoes may also fit the bill. 
Why it works: These foods are digested quickly—and the less time food sits in your stomach, the better your odds of side-stepping nausea.

Appetite buster: Your mouth is dry as cotton, which makes eating unpleasant.
Appetite enhancer: Try cold, creamy treats like milkshakes and ice cream. Other good options include fruits with lots of H2O, such as watermelon, peaches, nectarines and 100% papaya or pineapple juice.
Why it works: Cold and creamy foods, beverages and juicy fruits moisten your mouth and throat, which makes eating and swallowing easier. Papaya and pineapple juice contain natural enzymes that help thin saliva and make eating more appealing.

Appetite buster: Mouth sores, a side effect of some cancer treatments, which make eating difficult and even painful.
Appetite enhancer: Try cream soups, stews, pasta with cream sauce, melted cheese, scrambled eggs, and cereals like Farina and Cream of Wheat. But make sure nothing is too hot or cold. Lukewarm is best.
Why it works: Soft foods are less likely to irritate your mouth.

Appetite buster: Foods you normally like smell or taste terrible.
Appetite enhancer: Mild-tasting sweetish foods, such as French toast or pancakes, may entice you to the table. Also, try marinating chicken, turkey and mild fish like tilapia in sweet sauces, such as a teriyaki or plum sauce. Use condiments with aromas that appeal to you—like ketchup, mayo and butter—and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
Why it works: Cancer treatments, including chemo, radiation and surgery, can affect your taste buds and your sense of smell. As a result, foods with overpowering or bitter odors, like cabbage, Brussels sprouts and peppers, will often turn you off during treatment—even if you normally enjoy them.

Appetite buster: You’re bone-tired—you don’t have the energy to cook or eat.
Appetite enhancer: Snack on foods high in protein and fat that you don’t have to prepare, like cheese cubes with whole-grain crackers. Also, try adding a high-fiber, complex-carb-rich food like granola to your favorite yogurt. For lunch or dinner, try a tuna or turkey sandwich with mayo on whole-wheat bread or high-fiber crackers. Drink at least eight cups of caffeine-free beverages every day (caffeine causes dehydration, which can contribute to fatigue). Water, diluted fruit juice and seltzer are also good choices.
Why it works: Not eating enough nutritious food robs your body of nutrients and leaves you feeling draggy. Right now, your body needs high-quality food to help rebuild tissues affected by cancer and cancer treatment. 

Published March 2014


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8 Foods to Nix Chemo-Induced Nausea

12 Ways to Eat Right During Chemo
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5 Nutrients to Get During Chemo
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