Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Each person who undergoes chemotherapy to treat or control cancer will have a unique experience. Some people experience few side effects from treatment and others experience many side effects, some of which include nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, pain, fatigue, hair loss, poor appetite and mouth sores. The side effects from chemotherapy treatments can affect how a person eats and how food tastes. Foods that taste good during chemotherapy differ for each individual, just as each person experiences different food aversions and intolerances. It is important to discover the foods that are tolerated, because the nourishment from food helps to fight infection and helps with the healing process.
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Cold drinks like shakes can be soothing, especially if you have no desire to eat solid foods or if you are experiencing mouth pain. There are numerous ways of making shakes. See which combinations taste best by experimenting with different ingredients like vanilla yogurt, tofu, cottage cheese, frozen yogurt and peanut butter. If you need more calories, you can try adding a packet of instant breakfast or some protein powder to the shake.
Smoothies are cold and soothing and often easier to consume than solid food during cancer treatment. You can make homemade smoothies by blending your favorite ingredients, such as vanilla yogurt, tofu, rice milk, almond milk or soy milk with different frozen fruits, such as frozen blueberries, bananas, mangoes, strawberries or pineapples.
Soft foods like cooked rice cereal, oatmeal, mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs are soothing for someone experiencing side effects from chemotherapy, such as mouth pain. These foods can be made bland, which is often desired by people experiencing nausea, vomiting and other digestive problems. You can increase the calorie content of the cooked cereals by adding ingredients such as nuts, peanut butter, butter or an egg while cooking.
Toast and Crackers
Small meals and snacks, like toast or crackers, are often better tolerated during chemotherapy, and it helps by adding extra calories to the diet. Toast or crackers can be eaten plain, or if you need extra calories in your diet, try adding high-calorie toppings like cheese, peanut butter or mashed avocado.
Bland foods like plain noodles with olive oil or butter often taste best during chemotherapy. Foods that have a strong odor like fish, onions and garlic can be revolting to patients undergoing chemotherapy, so it is best to serve bland foods without spices and seasonings.
If you are having trouble tolerating even soft foods or smoothies, clear liquids like vegetable broth or chicken broth can be a way of getting liquids into your diet. Broth does not provide energy, so it is important that you talk with your doctor and dietitian if you are only able to tolerate broth. Clear liquids like fruit juice or popsicles are a way of adding calories and liquids to the diet.
It is important to discuss proper nutrition during chemotherapy with your doctor and dietitian, especially if you are experiencing side effects from your treatment or if you are experiencing weight loss.