Guidelines for Diet During Chemotherapy


Keeping a healthy lifestyle is a good idea for everyone. If you have cancer, nutrition is a very important part of your treatment. Eating the right kinds of food can help you feel better and stay stronger. Learning about your nutrition needs can also help you cope with treatment side effects.

Your nutrition needs will probably change as you go through the cancer experience. Be sure you discuss any concerns you may have about your nutrition with your doctor. You may want to see a nutritionist or dietician for more information. That person should communicate with your doctor to make sure you are eating the best foods for your situation.

There is no prescribed diet plan for someone with cancer. Each person’s nutritional needs are different. They are based on your cancer treatment plan, your current height and weight and any other illnesses you may have like diabetes or heart disease.

Here are some nutritional goals to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. For some people this may mean eating enough calories to avoid weight loss and for others it may mean safely losing weight. Your doctor can help you determine your healthy weight.
  • Get essential nutrients the body needs. These are protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
  • Avoid foods that make your side effects worse. Certain foods worsen diarrhea, constipation and mouth sores.

Here are some tips on how to make sure you safely get all of your nutrients:

  • Avoid low-calorie or non-nutritious foods and drinks
  • Eat whenever you are hungry
  • Supplement with high-calorie drinks if necessary
  • Use herbs and spices to make food more appealing
  • Try liquid or pureed meals if you are struggling to eat
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day
  • Avoid foods if they cause you constipation or diarrhea
  • Avoid food that is very hot or very cold
  • Mint and ginger teas can help soothe your gut
  • Do not take dietary supplements without consulting with your doctor
  • Eat sitting up. Do not lie down after eating
  • Eat bland foods if your stomach is upset or your mouth hurts
  • Eat high fiber foods to help relieve constipation
  • Talk to your doctor!

Getting help meeting your nutritional goals

Sometimes you or your caregiver might be too tired to shop or cook. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family, coworkers and neighbors to help prepare meals or do the grocery shopping for you. Most people you know want to help. They just don’t know how and don’t want to intrude. You also may want to seek out the expertise of a registered dietician or nutritionist. This person is trained to advise people on what to eat to meet their dietary needs. Your doctor can refer you to specialist with experience in the dietary needs of people with cancer.

What are bland foods?

A bland diet is made up of foods that are soft, not very spicy and low in fiber. Here are some examples:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Cooked, canned or frozen vegetables (not raw)
  • Vegetable juices
  • Cooked or canned fruit with the skin and seeds removed, like applesauce, canned peaches or bananas
  • Oatmeal and cream of wheat
  • Poultry, lean fish and shellfish that are steamed, baked or grilled with no added fat
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Pudding and custard
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Soup, especially broth
  • Weak tea

General Guidelines for Food Safety

When you are receiving treatment for cancer, your immune system may not be at its best. You are at a greater risk of infection. Make sure you follow these general guidelines when preparing your food:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before eating
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • Use special care in handling raw meats, fish, poultry and eggs
  • Clean anything that has touched raw meat
  • Cook to proper temperatures and drink pasteurized beverages
  • Store foods promptly at low temperatures to minimize bacterial growth (below 40F)
  • Avoid foods that may have potential bacterial contamination such as salad bars, sushi or undercooked meat
  • Contact your local health department if you are worried about water purity


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