Chemocare.com

Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Tips for Managing Eating Problems and Your Diet after Chemo Treatments



Good nutrition for chemotherapy patients can be affected by poor mouth care, fatigue, pain, and fever, as well as the many symptoms that can occur during and after cancer chemotherapy treatments.  The goal is to know how to combat these symptoms and maintain an adequate diet after chemo.

Goals for managing symptoms to achieve a good diet after chemo:

Loss of appetite for food (Anorexia)

  • Plan ahead - plan a daily menu in advance.
  • Make every bite count - choose high calorie and protein foods (i.e. casseroles, fortified milkshakes, peanut butter added to snacks).
  • Pack snacks to keep on hand at all times.
  • Strive to eat at least 1/3 of your calorie and protein needs at breakfast.
  • Eat 5-6 small meals per day (this helps to sneak in extra calories and protein).
  • Don't be afraid to try something new, this might spark your appetite.
  • Be sure to follow good mouth care practices.

Difficulty swallowing (Dysphagia)

  • After chemo treatments, soft foods may improve swallowing problems.  These tend to go down easier.
  • Consider high calorie and protein milkshakes.  Liquids tend to be the best tolerated, especially if the difficulty swallowing is related to a narrowed esophagus.
  • Chew solid foods thoroughly.

Nausea/Vomiting

Foods to avoid (especially for patients during and after chemo):

  • Hot, spicy foods (i.e. hot pepper, curry, Cajun spice mix).
  • Fatty, greasy or fried foods.
  • Very sweet, sugary foods.
  • Large meals.
  • Foods with strong smells (foods that are warm tend to smell stronger).
  • Eating or drinking quickly.
  • Drinking beverages with meals.
  • Lying down after a meal.

Diet tips to try:

  • Small meals throughout the day.
  • Refrigerated or room temperature entrees.
  • Rinse mouth with lemon water after eating.
  • Suck on ice cubes, mints, or hard candies.
  • Distractions such as TV, music, or reading may be helpful while eating.

Diarrhea

Foods to avoid (especially for patients during and after chemo):

  • Hot, spicy foods (i.e. hot pepper, curry, Cajun spice mix).
  • High fiber foods (i.e. raw fruit and vegetables, coarse whole grains).
  • Fatty, greasy, or fried foods.
  • Rich desserts.
  • Nuts, seeds, or dried fruit.

Beverages to avoid (especially for patients during and after chemo):

  • Beverages that are very hot or cold.
  • Beverages containing caffeine (coffee, strong tea, soda, and possibly chocolate).
  • Use caution with milk products.

Diet tips to try:

  • Low total fiber or good soluble fiber source (i.e. rice, bananas, white bread, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, skinless/boneless chicken or turkey).
  • Increase the amount of sodium (salt) and potassium in your diet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Constipation
Constipation can be caused by cancer treatments and pain medications.

Diet tips to try:

  • Increase the amount of fiber (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • In some cases a low residue diet (low fiber) may be appropriate with increased clear liquids. 
  • It is important to discuss which diet is right for you with your dietician and physician.

Dry mouth (xerostomia)

Diet tips to try:

  • Mouth care is important to maintain a good diet, especially during and after chemotherapy.
  • Try a "swish and spit" solution; mix 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt or baking soda with a glass of water.  Do this 4-5 times daily or more often.
  • Avoid oral care products that dry the mouth (i.e. products containing alcohol or peroxide).
  • Try lubricating your mouth with artificial saliva. 
  • Swish and swallow a mouthful of olive oil or vegetable oil.  This will lubricate the mouth and esophagus for about 15 minutes.  Some people cannot tolerate this.

Mouth sores (stomatitis)

  • Try a soft, pureed, or liquid diet to decrease chewing.
  • Avoid citrus and tomato based products.
  • Try to maximize calories and protein with fortified nutritional milkshakes (i.e. Boost).

Taste changes

  • Mouth care is important to maintain a good diet, especially during and after chemotherapy.
  • Try a "swish and spit" solution; mix 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt or baking soda with a glass of water.  Do this 4-5 times daily or more often.
  • Try to suck on mints or lemon hard candy to keep mouth fresh.
  • Try using plastic utensils.
  • Add herbs, seasoning, and marinades to foods to enhance flavor.  Avoid bland flavors (i.e. vanilla).  Try fresh fruit.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.