Nutrition is a critical part of cancer treatment and survivorship. During chemotherapy and radiation, your body needs enough calories to stay strong, but sometimes eating can be a challenge. Your medication can have a load of side effects including nausea, taste changes, diarrhea, constipation, taste changes, and much more! In this blog, we are going to cover some tips for helping you get enough to eat and some foods that taste good during chemo and radiation treatment.

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Why is it important to eat enough during cancer treatment?

Good nutrition is essential for keeping up your strength to rebuild cells and tissues that are harmed by cancer treatment. It can also help you deal with side effects that you may be experiencing. And finally, your body needs the fuel that you get from food to help your body fight the cancer and allow the medications to work as well as possible.

Tips for dealing with side effects from chemo and radiation treatment

If you are experiencing side effects, it can make it that much harder to want to eat. While everyone responds to their treatment differently, here are some ways to get the most out of your food during cancer treatment:

  • Eat when you have the biggest appetite. If you notice you are hungrier in the morning vs. at night, try to have a bigger meal during that time and drink a liquid supplement later on.
  • When you find foods that taste food during chemo, eat those foods! Even if it is only one or two things. Don’t worry if it doesn’t “fit” traditionally in that meal time, stick with these foods until you are able to eat more. Eating something is better than nothing.
  • If larger meals are harder to tolerate, break it up into smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially on days where you cannot eat or aren’t feeling as hungry.
  • Make an appointment with a dietitian. Cancer patients have different dietary needs and there is a lot of nutrition misinformation out there about what you should and shouldn’t do during treatment. They can provide personalized recommendations that address your exact situation to help you feel better.

What are some ways to find foods that taste good during chemo?

Here are some tips and hacks for finding foods that taste good during chemo and radiation treatment. Remember, each person is different so it’s important to check with your doctor or dietitian to make sure this is right for you. Learn more here.

1. Reduce food smells

If you are experiencing nausea or taste changes, reducing food smells can help make food more palatable during meal time. Some ways to reduce food smells:

  • Serve cold or room temperature
  • Eat in a room with good air flow or with a window open
  • Keep foods covered
  • Use cups with a lid and drink through a straw
  • Use a kitchen fan while cooking
Gentle nutrition says ice cream can fit chocolate nice cream recipe

2. Frozen fruits

If the thought of fresh fruit is not appealing, try eating frozen fruits instead. Allow them to defrost a few minutes and enjoy on top of yogurt, ice cream or by themselves! You can also try Nice Cream for a cold and yummy snack. We love this Chocolate Nice Cream and this classic recipe as well.

3. Marinate Foods

One of our favorite ways to help you find foods that taste good during chemo is to marinate your proteins. This can help improve the flavor of any meat, chicken or fish, and can help them taste better. Pick up your favorite marinade at the store or try this one that you can buy online*!  

4. Incorporate more “extreme” flavors

If you are experiencing taste changes, try foods that have more “extreme flavors” like sour or spicy foods. Try recipes that have oranges, lemon, lime or vinegar. You can also experiment with different spicy flavors as well! Some of our favorite recipes include these fish tacos with mango salsa, this yummy turkey tenderloin recipe, and this lemon chicken and asparagus sheet pan meal.

 

Note: If you are experience nausea, sore mouth or throat, do not eat tart foods as they can make you feel worse.

Citrus helps food that taste good during chemo
spices help food that tastes good during chemo

5. Add extra flavors to your food

For those with taste changes, you might find it helpful to add difference herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary to your dishes. You can also use different sauces like BBQ sauce or ketchup to make a dish that has foods that taste good during chemo. We love this buffalo cauliflower with ranch dip or the black bean enchiladas recipe that can be made ahead and put in the freezer for a quick easy meal if you aren’t feeling well.

If you are experiencing more nausea, bland food without a lot of seasonings and sauces may be more palatable.

6. Pretzels or Crackers

If you have nausea in the morning, snack on some plain pretzels or crackers. Try keeping them by your bedside so you can conveniently access them if you are having low energy.

7. Avoid canned foods/items

If you have a metal taste in your mouth, try to avoid canned foods (if you are able to) as that can make the metallic taste worse. (This is not to say canned foods are bad by any meals! They are a convenient and affordable option!) You can also try eating with plastic cutlery.

8. Add sugar to make foods less bitter

If you find foods are too salty, bitter or acidic, add some sugar or sweetener to make them more palatable.

9. Suck on hard candies

If you have a bad taste in your mouth, sucking on hard candies will stimulate your salivary glands and also help remove any bad taste in your mouth, which can help you find more foods that taste food during chemo.

10. Rinse out mouth with warm water

To help you find foods that taste good during chemo, it helps to go in with a fresh palate! Rinse your mouth with warm water prior to eating to cleanse your palate and reset before meal times.

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Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.