During chemotherapy, your total blood count may drop as a side effect of treatment. Anemia, or a significantly decreased number of red blood cells, can be alleviated by following a balanced diet that emphasizes protein and certain vitamins and minerals. Even though nausea and other side effects may restrict your appetite, you can find food items in every food group to satisfy your elevated needs for general and blood-building nutrition. Let your doctor set calorie and serving boundaries to suit your condition.
Healthy protein foods contain the protein chemo patients need for cellular repair as well as red blood cell formation. Lean meats, seafood and beans also contain iron and a range of B vitamins needed to increase red blood cell production, with less fat to dampen your appetite. Choose beef sirloin, skinless chicken, salmon or halibut for high protein, and liver, clams and beans for high iron. To control nausea, bake or broil meats and fish instead of frying.
According to the Clinical Nutrition Service, chemo patients often tolerate starchy foods found in the grain group well. When other foods seem distasteful, get your protein, iron and vitamin B from foods such as fortified breakfast cereal, toast, crackers, noodles and steamed rice. Eat enriched or whole grains whenever possible, for greater nutrition.
While dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese are well-known calcium sources, they are also strong contributors of protein and B vitamins. Following chemotherapy, cold foods may be more appealing to you than hot entrees. Besides low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, dishes that contain these ingredients can help raise your blood count. Try flavored pudding, milk shakes, yogurt and fruit smoothies, and cheese sandwiches.
Most fruits contain vitamin C, a nutrient that your body needs to fight infection during your treatment period and to absorb dietary iron used in making blood cells. Fruits with high vitamin C include oranges, strawberries and cantaloupes. Dried fruits such as raisins and juices such as prune juice are good sources of iron.
Vegetables that offer large amounts of vitamin C include broccoli and red peppers. Dark green vegetables are likely to have iron and vitamin B. Spinach, especially, makes a nutritious choice for chemotherapy patients, providing protein as well as significant content of iron and vitamins B and C. The nutrient concentration in spinach increases with cooking.
- National Cancer Institute; Chemotherapy and You; May 2007
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute; Anemia; August 2010
- USDA: Nutrient Database
- Clinical Nutrition Service; Dietary Recommendations for Nausea; August 2003
- National Institutes of Health; Protein in Diet; July 2009
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C