How Do I Choose the Best Chemotherapy Foods?

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment in which drugs are administered to help destroy and prevent the formation of new cancer cells. The drugs may also affect normal, healthy cells and result in a variety of side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, mouth sores, and difficulty swallowing, which may ultimately lead to weight loss and malnutrition. To prevent the loss of strength while on cancer treatment, certain chemotherapy foods may be recommended that may help patients obtain the appropriate amount of nutrients while dealing with side effects that make eating difficult or unpleasant.

Without adequate nutrition from food, the immune system may suffer and slow down recovery time; however, chemotherapy and its side effects may make many foods hard to digest or unappetizing while dealing with constant nausea or vomiting. When choosing chemotherapy foods, it is often advised to select items that will provide nutrients while still being gentle on the digestive system. Lean protein prepared in a basic way without many additional seasonings, such as broiled or baked chicken or turkey breast, may be recommended as a source of protein because it may be bland enough to not further irritate nausea. Other foods that may be filling and easy to digest include oatmeal, pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, and yogurt.

Certain foods tend to be more likely to cause an upset stomach or increase feelings of nausea. When deciding which chemotherapy foods to choose, it is typically advisable to avoid spicy foods, as well as rich foods, such as fried or greasy dishes. Some foods, such as nuts, dried fruits, raw vegetables and fruit, and whole grains, are usually considered nutritious for healthy individuals but may contribute to digestive issues due to their high soluble fiber and are generally not recommended for cancer patients.

If nausea, vomiting, or other side effects of cancer treatment make recommended chemotherapy foods difficult to digest, doctors or nutritionists may advise supplementing the diet with liquids to boost calorie and nutrient intake. For times when patients have trouble eating solid food due to nausea or vomiting, juices, commercial vitamin shakes and drinks, and broth-based soups may be easier on the stomach. Chemotherapy patients may be at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated, so drinking as much liquid as possible throughout the day may decrease the chance. Approved liquids tend to be non-caffeinated, clear drinks, including water, caffeine-free clear soda, and decaffeinated tea.

Chemotherapy eating plans often consist of several small meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than fewer larger meals, because patients who are nauseous may not feel capable of bigger portions. Letting food cool down to room temperature may also reduce nausea because hot foods often have a stronger scent that may trigger the nauseous feelings. Experimenting at changing the time of day when consuming meals may also reduce side effects of chemotherapy. For example, some patients may feel better if they eat before treatments, while others’ side effects may be reduced if they wait until afterwards.


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