Eating a varied, nutritious diet is vital for maintaining good health. Following a nutrient-rich diet with sufficient calories is easy when you’re feeling well. However, this can be harder to achieve during chemotherapy, when side effects can lessen your appetite or make it difficult to keep down food.
Here’s what to know about nutrition during chemo and how to give your body the nutrition it needs throughout the treatment and healing process.
Why Nutrition Matters During Chemo
Nutrition is always important but is especially so during treatment. Maintaining a nutritious diet helps you keep up your strength and energy, promotes weight maintenance, reduces the risk of infection, helps you manage side effects, and improves healing and recovery times.
Common side effects of chemo include loss of appetite, dry mouth and throat, nausea, food aversions, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, and depression. These can make it harder to stick to a nutritious, balanced diet and get the proteins, vitamins, nutrients, and hydration you need.
However, a considered approach to chemotherapy nutrition can help you keep your body nourished and hydrated.
What to Eat During Chemotherapy
Your appetite and ability to stomach food may vary depending on where you are in your chemotherapy regimen. However, try these guidelines.
- On the day of. Eat small, light portions of low-fat, bland foods—yogurt, fruit, cottage cheese, eggs and toast, bagels, cereal, or light soups. Stay hydrated by bringing a water bottle with you to sip on.
- After therapy. After your infusion, try to stick with small, frequent, light meals. Cold, low-odor foods can help minimize nausea and food aversions. Juices, broths, popsicles, protein shakes, and herbal teas can help with hydration while offering additional nutrition.
Try to ensure that you get a balanced mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Try to eat a variety of different colored foods and minimize sugary or processed foods that can be low in nutrients and that may cause gastrointestinal distress. If your appetite is low, save your liquids for between meals to avoid filling up on fluids.
Remember that your palate might change during treatment, so don’t be afraid to try new foods. However, if a particular food makes you feel unwell, look for alternatives that provide similar nutrients. You can also reduce the impact of side effects such as mouth sores or dryness by avoiding spicy, acidic, dry, or scratchy foods, as these can exacerbate symptoms.
Also, bear in mind that your immune system might be suppressed during and after treatment, so always practice good food hygiene and handling.
Finally, if you are considering taking multivitamins or herbal supplements, talk to your doctor first, as these may interfere with your treatment. Your doctor can also provide a list of recommended meals, nutrition tips, or even medications that can help manage side effects.
Your Cancer Care Team is Here to Help
At Southwest Women’s Oncology and Health, we know that maintaining good nutrition during chemotherapy is a vital component of your health and wellbeing. We work with our patients to provide recommendations and guidelines to ensure that you’re getting the nutrition you need to feel your best – and we’re always here to answer any questions or concerns. If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis and are looking for an expert, compassionate care team, talk to us today.