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Information for Patients

Nutrition and Cancer

Eating well may help you keep up your strength during your cancer treatment. Mindy Athas, RD, CSO, nutrition educator and certified oncology specialist at UMGCC, has put together some tips for maintaining good nutrition during cancer treatment. For more information, or to speak to a dietitian, please call 410-328-5462.

Note: Always tell your health care provider about your nutritional concerns.

What to Eat During Cancer Treatment

  1. Small meals with small portions.
  2. Frequent meals: five to six mini meals or snacks daily
  3. Plenty of water or other drinks: 8 ounces, six to eight times daily.
  4. More fiber: whole grains, 100% whole wheat, flaxseed, oatmeal, brown rice, multigrain pasta, fruit, vegetables, beans, and nuts.
  5. Fruits and vegetables: at least 5 servings per day. Choose bright and deep colors, leafy greens, and juices too.
  6. Eat high calorie, high protein foods: pizza, peanut butter, tuna salad, milk products, eggs, bagels, dried fruit, nuts, and granola.
  7. Try supplements: Boost Plus®, Ensure Plus®, Instant Breakfast, or make your own homemade milkshakes: add protein powder.
  8. Food safety: wash hands before eating, cook food to proper temperatures, and keep food covered, refrigerated or frozen.
  9. Eat with others: perk up a poor appetite by dining with friends. Turn on the television or radio. Open the window for fresh air.

Anti-Nausea/Vomiting Tips

  1. Discuss anti-nausea medicine with your health care provider and take as directed.
  2. Eat slowly and chew your food well. Take small bites and sips often.
  3. Wear loose clothing while eating. Try to relax in a calm setting.
  4. Stay upright while eating. Don't lay flat for 45 minutes after eating.
  5. Try cool or cold temperature foods. Suck on hard candy or ice chips.
  6. Avoid strong cooking odors. Go outside for fresh air.
  7. Try popsicles, gelatin, dry cereal, toast, crackers, potatoes, and rice. Choose bland, plain, salty, or dry foods.
  8. Avoid fried, fatty, or greasy foods. High fat foods may stay in your stomach longer. Try protein-rich foods instead, like turkey or beans.
  9. Eat smaller meals more often. Hunger can lead to nausea.
  10. Stay hydrated: sip on fluids often. Rinse your mouth frequently.

Easy to Chew & Swallow Foods

  1. Choose mushy, creamy, pureed, strained, or blended foods: use a blender or food processor. Or try baby food stage 1 or 2: no chunks.
  2. Take small bites and sips. Use straws or tilt your head forward while swallowing.
  3. Try dairy foods: ice cream, yogurt, milk, cream, half & half, sweetened condensed, evaporated, or dried milk. Or substitute soy or rice milk.
  4. Have more liquids: smoothies, supplements (Ensure Plus® or Instant Breakfast shakes) or make homemade milkshakes with ice cream.
  5. Use cooked, canned, or frozen & warmed fruits & vegetables.
  6. Make stews, soups, and slow-cooked foods (use crock pot, Dutch oven or slow cooker). Make foods moist and soft.
  7. Cook slippery noodles: well-done pasta covered in butter or oil.
  8. Add gravies, sauces, cream, yogurt, oil, butter, salad dressing, mayo, or melted cheese as toppings.
  9. Dunk or soak foods in liquids (soggy cereal or bread in milk).
  10. Avoid hot or cold temperature extremes. Eat foods at room temperature.

Altered Taste

  1. Avoid foods that taste off. These may change daily: re-try foods.
  2. Choose cold-temperature foods: dairy products and salads.
  3. Try adding sugar to salty or savory foods & salt to sweet foods.
  4. Use extra seasonings or spices. Marinate foods in sauces or vinegar.
  5. Use plastic or glass utensils and plates. Avoid cooking with metal.
  6. Try hard candies: regular or sugar-free. Chew gum or fresh fruits.
  7. Use citrus flavors (lemon, lime or grapefruit) or tangy/tart flavors (pickle relish, cranberry).
  8. Use straws in lidded cups. Drink beverages with ice.

Poor Appetite

  1. Eat Anyway! Cancer itself and treatment can take away your appetite. Know that you must eat despite not feeling like it.
  2. Have small, frequent mini meals every two to three hours.
  3. Walk before eating. Get fresh air outside or open a window.
  4. Keep foods laying around in plain view, such as nuts or dried fruit.
  5. Use pre-portioned, ready-to-eat foods. Chop up large portions.
  6. Rest or nap between eating. But limit nap time to less than 2 hours.
  7. One bite or sip is better than none. Start small and gradually build up your portions. Don't go more than 4 hours without eating!
  8. Talk to your health care provider about appetite-stimulating medication.

When Foods Burn Your Throat

  1. Talk to your health care provider about medication to help.
  2. Eat small meals more often. Sip and bite something every few hours.
  3. Stay away from acidic foods: coffee & tea (both regular & decaf), citrus fruits, tomato products (sauce, pizza), raw onion, vinegar, pineapple, and alcohol.
  4. IF ACID REFLUX or GERD:
    1. Also avoid: high fat foods, fried foods, store-bought snack or dessert items (pastry, doughnuts, potato chips, mac-n-cheese), whole milk dairy, cured meats, mint flavorings, and hot spices.
    2. Stay upright while eating & afterwards for 45 minutes. Elevate the head of your bed while sleeping.
    3. Wear loose-fitting clothing. Deep breathe and get fresh air.

Low Fat, High Calorie Foods

  1. For patients who can't tolerate fat due to malabsorption.
  2. Use fat-free or low-fat dairy foods (skim or 1%): milk, yogurt, frozen yogurt, pudding, cheese, cottage cheese, and ice cream.
  3. Try baby food but check the label for fat content.
  4. Use egg whites or an egg substitute.
  5. Beans -- all kinds, plain pasta, plain rice, dry bread.
  6. Lean meats, skinless chicken or turkey, fish, roast beef. No fried or greasy foods. Don't add fat to these foods. Use vinegar, honey, jam, juice, molasses, syrups, fat-free dressings or gravies instead.
  7. Choose fruit, popsicles, frozen fruit bars, sorbet, gelatin, hard candy, gum, low-fat granola for sweet flavors.
  8. Choose fat-free or low-fat: popcorn, cereal, pretzels, crackers, baked chips, muffins, bagels, baked tortilla chips for savory flavors.
  9. Sweet tea, soda, sports drinks, punch, flavored water for drinks.
  10. Fat free: gravy, sauces, soups, stews, mayo, sour cream.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

  1. All fruits: especially dark or brightly colored ones and their juices (berries, grapes, pomegranates, citrus, avocado, and dried fruit).
  2. All vegetables: especially dark green leafy, brightly colored ones & vegetable juice (spinach, sweet peppers, peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic).
  3. Fresh herbs & spices: parsley, cilantro, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, and curry powder. Buy herb plants and keep in a sunny spot.
  4. Honey (pasteurized), molasses, real maple syrup, dark chocolate, cocoa.
  5. Nuts, seeds, nut butters (peanut butter: NO Trans Fat on label).
  6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: fish, fish oil capsules (ask your doctor), flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts, grass-fed animals, fortified foods.
  7. Tomato products: sauce, pizza, stewed, fresh, juice.
  8. Some soy foods: milk, tofu, nuts, and miso.
  9. Tea: black, green, white; decaf or regular; not herbal.

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This page was last updated on: May 8, 2012.