Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
When you’re coping with chemotherapy or radiation treatments, it helps to know that they are targeting cancer cells to pave the way for your recovery. Unfortunately, these therapies can also kill normal cells, causing side effects that reduce your appetite. You may need a new diet strategy to make sure you get the nutrition you need.
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Effects of Cancer Treatments
Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation usually go away once your treatments end. But you may find it difficult to eat normally when you’re dealing with symptoms such as nausea, a sore mouth or throat, vomiting, fatigue, and distortions in your sense of taste and smell. According to the American Cancer Society, a nutritious diet can help you cope with the treatments as well as maintain your weight, strength and energy.
Diet During Chemotherapy
Foods that are easy on your stomach include clear soups, cranberry and grape juices, sport drinks and bland foods such as crackers, chicken, white rice, oatmeal and potatoes. If your mouth is sore, try yogurt, puddings, shakes and smoothies. High-fiber foods may help with constipation. And if it’s a chore to eat at all, now’s the time for foods rich in calories and protein—for example, cream soups, whole milk, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, legumes, custards and ice cream.
Diet During Radiation
Foods recommended for radiation patients are similar to those for chemo patients. If diarrhea is a problem, try strained vegetable broth, fruit punch, popsicles and fruit ices, plain gelatin desserts and apple juice. You can boost protein by adding powdered milk to foods such as puddings, milkshakes and scrambled eggs, or use high-protein liquid supplements. If tastes and smells bother you, cold foods might be more appealing than hot ones.
During cancer treatment, you may be more vulnerable to infections. The National Cancer Institute advises special care in food preparation to avoid complications from foodborne bacteria. Refrigerate leftovers promptly and thaw frozen foods in the fridge or microwave. Wash your hands, utensils and countertops before and after fixing meals. Don’t eat runny eggs or raw fish and avoid salad bars. Scrub fruits well before cutting and eating, and don’t eat those—like raspberries—that can’t be scrubbed.