Nutrition During Chemotherapy and/or Radiation Treatment
Throughout cancer treatment, your goal will be weight maintenance and good nutrition. Eating well during treatment can help you:
- Feel better,
- Keep up your strength and energy,
- Maintain your weight and your body’s store of nutrients,
- Better tolerate side effects of treatment,
- Decrease your risk of infection, and
- Heal and recover quickly.
Maintain Your Weight
Try to keep your weight stable during treatment. Your health care team will monitor you for rapid weight loss or weight gain. In general, your protein needs will be higher due to both the cancer and treatment. Your calorie needs may also increase with cancer and treatment. Even though you may not be as active during treatment, you may need to eat more to keep from losing weight. We recommend that you do not take a general multivitamin that contains more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV).
Eat a Healthy Diet
Good nutrition during treatment may differ among individuals. If your appetite is good and your weight is steady, try to eat a balanced, healthy diet:
Fruits and Vegetables – Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables by focusing on different colors each week. Choose 5 to 7 servings, or greater than 4 cups, per day.
Grains – Eat at least 6 servings of grain products per day with at least 3 of those servings being whole grain products. Examples include: ½ cup of oatmeal; ½ cup of brown rice; 1 slice of whole grain bread; and ½ cup of whole wheat pasta.
Meat and Poultry – Choose moderate amounts of low fat meat, poultry and fish, about 6 ounces per day. Examples include: lean beef trimmed of fat, such as round, sirloin, flank, tenderloin, and ground beef which is 90% lean or greater; cuts of pork trimmed of all visible fat; and skinless chicken breast.
Dairy – Choose moderate amounts of low fat dairy foods, about 3 serving per day. Examples include: 1 cup of low fat milk; 1 cup of low fat yogurt; 2 cups of low fat cottage cheese; and 1/3 cup of low fat shredded cheese (3 grams of fat or less per ounce).
Cut back on fat, sugar, alcohol and salt.
Fluids – You need 6 to 8 servings of non-caffeinated liquids per day. Each serving should be 8 ounces. Beverages that contain caffeine cannot be counted as part of your fluid intake. Foods that are liquid at room temperature, however, can be counted. Some examples are: ice cream, sherbet, gelatin, cream soups, and popsicles. Keep some type of fluid with you at all times so you can sip continually throughout the day. If you are not eating well, choose fluids that contain calories, such as fruit juices, milk, smoothies, sports drinks, and liquid supplements or meal replacements.
Handy Snacks to Help with a Low Appetite
- Bean Dip
- Buttered popcorn
- Cheese Dip
- Chocolate milk
- Cottage cheese
- Frozen yogurt
- Fruit (fresh, dried, canned)
- Hot dogs
- Ice cream
- Instant breakfast
- Trail mix
Increase Calories When Needed
Eating a healthy diet during treatment may be challenging. You may not feel hungry and foods may not taste right to you. Even small amounts of food may make you feel full. If you have trouble eating, choose high calorie and high protein foods as listed in the table below. Push yourself to eat even when you are not hungry. Try taking small, frequent meals and using liquid supplements, such as Boost™, Carnation Instant Breakfast Drink™ or Ensure™ to help add calories and protein daily.
More Ideas for Increasing Calories
Add . . .
Soups, Potatoes, Hot Cereal, Grits, Rice, Noodles, Cooked Vegetables, Gravies and Sauces
Hot Chocolate, Desserts, Gelatin, Pudding, Fruit, Pancakes and Waffles
Half and Half
Soups, Sauces, Scrambled Eggs, Pudding, Hot Cereals, Mashed Potatoes, Hot Chocolate, Meatloaf and Hamburgers
Breads, Muffins, Fruit and Crackers
Honey, Jam, Sugar (white or brown)
Breads, Cereals, Shakes, Fruit, Yogurt and Meats
Cookies, Muffins or Bread Mixes, Yogurt, Fruit and Ice Cream
1 mini box of raisins or 2 dried apricots
Muffins, Cookies, Breads, Cakes, Cereals and Puddings
Foods That Help Increase Protein
- Melt cheese on sandwiches, breads, muffins, tortillas, hamburgers, hot dogs, meats, fish, vegetables, eggs, soups, casseroles, chili, mashed potatoes, rice, and pasta.
- Use milk (instead of water) while preparing hot cereals, soups, cocoa, and pudding.
- Add ice cream, frozen yogurt, or yogurt to carbonated beverages (ginger ale), shakes, cereals, fruit, gelatin, and pie. Sandwich between cookies, cake, and graham crackers.
- Add powdered milk or egg white powder to shakes, milk, casseroles, meatloaf, breads, muffins, sauces, soups, mashed potatoes, puddings, hot cereals, and scrambled eggs.
- Add extra egg whites to scrambled eggs, French toast batter, and casseroles.
Nuts and Legumes
- Use nuts or seeds in casseroles, breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, vegetables, ice cream, or as a simple snack.
- Spread peanut butter on sandwiches, toast, muffins, crackers, fruit, waffles, pancakes, and vegetables. Blend in to shake or ice cream.
More Ideas for Increasing Protein
Add . . .
Sandwiches, Breads, Muffins, Tortillas, Chili, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Vegetables, Eggs, Soup, Casseroles, Potatoes, Rice and Pasta
Whole Milk (instead of water)
Hot Cereals, Soups and Hot Chocolate
Shakes, Milk, Casseroles, Meatloaf, Bread, Muffins, Sauces, Soups, Mashed Potatoes, Puddings, Hot Cereals and Scrambled Eggs
Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt
Carbonated Drinks (Root Beer Float), Shakes, Fruit and “a la mode” with Cakes, Cookies, Brownies, Pies, etc . . .
Eggs (hard cooked)
Salads, Casseroles, Soups and Vegetables
Casseroles, Breads, Muffins, Pancakes, Cookies and Waffles. Sprinkle on Fruit, Cereal, Ice Cream, Yogurt, Vegetables, Salads and Toast as a crunchy topping. Use in place of Bread Crumbs. Blend with Parsley or Spinach, Herbs and Cream for a Noodle, Pasta or Vegetable Sauce. Roll a Banana in chopped Nuts.
Sandwiches, Toast, Crackers, Muffins, Fruit, Waffles, Pancakes, Vegetables and Shakes
Beans or Legumes
Soups, Casseroles, Pastas, Grains and Vegetables
Meat and Fish
1 ounce 75 7 g Add chopped, cooked Meat or Fish to Vegetables, Salads, Casseroles, Soups, Sauces, and Biscuit Dough. Use in Omelets, Soufflés, Quiches, Sandwich Fillings and Chicken and Turkey Stuffing. Wrap in Pie Crust or Biscuit Dough as turnovers. Add to stuffed Baked Potatoes.
This information originally appeared in the Journey Guide Patient Handbook developed by the Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospitals, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2013.
For more information:
Go to the Cancer health topic.