Maintaining good nutrition is especially important during cancer treatment. The disease and its treatments, though, can change how you taste, swallow or chew your food and can temporarily change how your body uses food. Below are some common side effects of various cancer treatments and nutritional tips to help you overcome them.
MD Anderson offers complete nutrition services to help you cope these issues. Licensed dietitians and diet specialists from our Clinical Nutrition department provide education, assessment and counseling to our patients and their guests, working with your health care team to identify opportunities for nutritional intervention or support.
Nutrition services include:
- Cancer prevention
- Therapeutic diets
- Nutrition build-up prior to and during therapy
- Management of treatment side effects
- Diabetes management
- Management of tube feedings and IV parenteral support
- Presentations on nutrition and cancer for professional organizations, universities and community groups
While there are no foods that can kill cancer cells, the foods you eat during cancer treatment can have a big impact. Changes to your diet can ease side effects or help your body stay strong and healthy during treatment.
“Your nutrition is an important part of your cancer treatment and overall well-being,” says Randi Nicholson, a clinical dietitian at MD Anderson. “True, it’s just one part of the puzzle when it comes to your treatment...
Mouth & Throat Problems
- Avoid tart, spicy or acidic foods.
- Avoid rough, coarse foods that can irritate the throat.
- Eat foods lukewarm, rather than hot or cold.
- Puree foods in a blender.
- Use a straw for drinks or soups.
- Use anesthetic (numbing) throat sprays or lozenges before eating.
- Practice good oral hygiene.
- Sip liquids frequently to moisten mouth.
- Tart or sweet foods and drinks can help ease dryness.
- Suck on hard candy or popsicles, or chew gum.
- Eat food with gravies and sauces to ease swallowing.
- Puree foods before eating.
- Ask your doctor about artificial saliva.
- Increase fiber intake.
- Drink warm beverages.
- Get some light exercise, which may also stimulate the appetite.
- Ask your doctor about stool softeners.
- Limit your intake of fiber, high-fat foods, sugar-free items and dairy products.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Increase your sodium and potassium sources.
Change in Taste or Smell
- Eat foods cold or lukewarm.
- Rinse your mouth with water, lemonade or ginger ale to decrease bitter taste.
- Find protein alternatives.
- Try different foods.
- Experiment with seasonings.
To make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition during cancer treatment, your doctor and your dietitian may recommend a feeding tube. A feeding tube is a small flexible plastic tube that will help your body get the protein, calories, vitamins and fluids it needs.
Nausea or Vomiting
- For foods with a strong smell, like broccoli, try eating them cold or lukewarm.
- Avoid your favorite foods. If you try to eat them and get nauseous, you may forever associate that food with getting sick.
- Eat dry crackers or toast.
- Avoid fatty, greasy fried foods.
- Drink liquids between meals rather than with food.
- Avoid tight clothing.
- Keep a log of when you become nauseous. It may help determine what's making you sick.
- Tart foods or beverages can help settle the stomach.
- Ask your doctor for anti-nausea medication.
Loss of Appetite
- Eat small meals, more frequently.
- Take advantage of times when you're hungriest, usually in the morning.
- Do light exercise to stimulate the appetite.
- Keep ready-to-eat foods on hand at home and on the road.
- Drink nutritional shakes like Ensure or Carnation Instant Breakfast.
- If you just can't bring yourself to eat, ask your doctor for appetite stimulants.