Nutrition After Chemotherapy: A Healthy Diet

THE KEY IS TO FEEL BETTER


Cancer treatments usually have very predictable side effects. By looking at the symptom complexes and then coming up with a dietary plan to counteract those symptoms, you can form a nutritional plan to make you feel better and stay stronger.

Good nutrition will go a long way to helping anyone after chemotherapy or radiation therapy.  Equally important is maintaining that nutrition before a new round of treatments or during treatments.

Let's examine some of the most prevalent symptoms associated with chemotherapy and then some ways to keep up a healthy diet before and after chemotherapy.

We'll also take a look at just a few great recipes that can help ease the after effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Source

CANCER AND NUTRITION


Being diagnosed with cancer is bad enough. Having to face cancer cachexia is another thing altogether.

Trying to maintain a healthy diet and get adequate nutrition is paramount in fighting cancer.  However, some of the side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy make that seem next to impossible.

Cancer diagnosis and the problems associated with chemo and radiation can also take their toll on anyone's outlook on life, leading to depression and anxiety. This in turn can result in poor nutrition and make eating seem "pointless" at times.

Any form of cancer usually requires treatment of the disease (whether by surgery, chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of all three).

More importantly though, sound treatment of cancer also involves maintaining the good health of the person fighting the disease.


EATING PROBLEMS AND EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY


Some of the common dietary problems associated with chemotherapy

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Change in taste or a metallic taste to everything
  • Dry mouth
  • Sores or ulcers in the mouth (mucositis)
  • Constipation (sometimes due to pain medications)
  • Mouth pain
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Feeling full with relatively little intake (early satiety) and bloating
  • Difficulty swallowing

There are dietary plans, however, that can minimize these symptoms based on which symptoms you experience. According to chemocare.com, there are several diets that are designed specifically to help individuals by attacking symptom complexes and building nutrition around the symptoms that you experience as a result of chemotherapy.

You can break the recommended foods and solutions down symptom by symptom and then implement some nutritious recipes or ideas to create a pre-chemotherapy, a peri-chemotherapy or a post-chemotherapy diet.

Many of these dietary suggestions also help with the after effects of radiation therapy such as difficulty swallowing, mouth pain, etc.


WHAT TO EAT ON A DIET AFTER CHEMOTHERAPY


For nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

  • Avoid anything hot or spicy
  • Avoid fatty, greasy or fried foods
  • Avoid high fiber foods like raw veggies or coarse whole grains
  • Avoid sweet, sugary, or rich desserts or foods
  • Avoid foods with strong smells (warm foods smell stronger than cold foods)
  • Stick to smaller meals more times per day
  • Minimize seeds, nuts or dried fruits
  • Eat or drink slowly and in small amounts
  • Don't lie down after a meal
  • Avoid drinking beverages with a meal
  • Eat foods from fridge or at room temperature
  • Try a mouth rinse with lemon water after eating
  • Ice cubes, mints or hard candies can reduce nausea and vomiting
  • Music, TV or reading can be helpful distractions while eating


For change in taste or metallic taste to foods

  • Practice good oral hygiene by brushing several times per day and after meals
  • Mix 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt or baking soda with 1 glass of water. Swish and spit 4-5 times per day or more often if needed
  • Use mints, lemon or hard candies to suck on as it will keep your mouth moist
  • It is recommended to use plastic utensils rather than metal
  • Avoid bland flavorings such as vanilla
  • Add fresh fruit to foods if tolerated
  • Try adding herbs or marinades (not overly spicy) that enhance flavor


For dry mouth or xerostomia:

  • Try the above swish and spit solution of salt or baking soda and water 4-5 times daily
  • Only use oral hygiene products without alcohol or peroxide
  • Use artificial saliva or make your own using 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt to a quart of water
  • Suck on hard candies or lozenges
  • Avoid caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea or colas
  • Swish and swallow a bit of olive oil or vegetable oil. This will lubricate the esophagus for about 15 minutes. Caution: Some people cannot tolerate this.


For sores or ulcers in the mouth (mucositis)

  • Keep to a pureed, liquid or soft diet (to decrease chewing)
  • Avoid all tomato and citrus products
  • Use protein and calorie rich fortified nutritional milkshakes, either commercial or homemade
  • Avoid anything that is too hot or too cold though cool sometimes helps
  • Avoid beverages containing caffeine or carbonation
  • Avoid alcohol or nicotine
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day
  • Avoid excessive sugary foods or drinks
  • Supplement your diet with electrolyte drinks
  • Maintain good oral hygiene every 4 hours - brush and floss gently
  • Remove dentures except when eating to avoid further irritation


A HEALTHY DIET TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER


For constipation

  • Increase fiber such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Increase the amount of fluids and water per day
  • Try a low residue or low fiber diet in combination with clear liquids


For mouth pain

  • See mucositis suggestions above


For loss of appetite (anorexia)

  • Meal plan at least a day in advance so you have many choices
  • Concentrate on high calorie, high protein foods
  • Incorporate things like peanut butter added to snacks for extra protein
  • Make use of casseroles and milkshakes as they are easy to prepare and easy to eat anytime
  • Keep snacks on hand at all times
  • Try to eat at least 1/3 of your protein and calorie needs at breakfast
  • Eat at least 5-6 small meals per day
  • Try new things to jump start your appetite but cautiously if experiencing other problems
  • Follow good oral hygiene practices every 4 hours


For early satiety and bloating

  • Eat small meals frequently throughout the day
  • Supplement with high protein, high calorie snacks
  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Sometimes a small amount of alcohol can stimulate appetite and help early satiety and bloating (if it doesn't aggravate other symptoms such as mucositis)


For difficulty swallowing or dysphagia)

  • Try to eat many soft foods, pureed foods or liquids to minimize swallowing
  • Use a straw to take in smaller amounts at a time
  • Supplement your diet with high protein, high calorie homemade milkshakes or other forms of nutritional shakes like smoothies made with tofu
  • Usually cooler or room temperature foods are easier to tolerate than warm
  • Eat slowly and chew all foods thoroughly
  • A change in position can make swallowing easier
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol containing beverages


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RECIPE FOR FRUIT SMOOTHIE

  • 1 banana (cut in chunks and freeze)
  • 1 cup vanilla yogurt (or use plain or Greek - add vanilla extract if desired)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (whole, 2% or skim)

Place ingredients in blender or food processor and process until smooth, using as much milk as suits the desired consistency.

Substitute tofu for the milk and tofu if you want a lactose-free shake. Use soy milk or a dash of fruit juice or extracts.

Smoothies can be made up of just about any fruit and using many dairy variations.

For the lactose intolerant, just substitute lactose free products.

_________________________________________________________________

RECIPE FOR MELON POPSICLES

  • 4 cups ripened melon peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt or silken tofu
  • Sweetener to taste (avoid honey)
  • Juice of a lemon or lime

Blend all ingredients in food processor or blender.

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until firm.


GOOD NUTRITION AFTER CHEMOTHERAPY


Good nutrition is important during any phase of cancer treatment. However, never is it more important than when the body is fighting the disease and being bombarded with the chemicals used in the fight against cancer.

Some recipes recommend using honey as a "natural" sweetener, however, some studies do show that honey use in an immune compromised patient such as someone undergoing chemotherapy is contraindicated and can provide a source for infections. I would personally caution against the use of honey unless recommended by a cancer nutritionist or physician.

In short, the best way to stay healthy and to overcome the after effects of chemotherapy is to maintain good nutrition. That is sometimes easier said than done but the key is to try to tackle each symptom or set of symptoms with diet. By minimizing discomforts, hopefully dietary changes can help you feel better and help you avoid cancer cachexia.

At any stage of life, a healthy diet is imperative for good health but never more so than after chemotherapy starts.

The recipes are a conglomeration of several websites on the Internet with my own little tweaks but for more information see Squidoo Cooking For Chemo Patient 2 and Chemotherapy Smoothie recipes at Food.com for more great ideas.

Check out my article on fighting cancer and staying healthy while on cancer therapy on excerptz.com.


_________________________________________________________________

RECIPE FOR RISOTTO

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or Marsala wine
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced (or use shallots for milder flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Pinch salt and pepper

Heat broth on stove until boiling and then reduce to simmer.  In saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil until foamy.  Add onions and saute until translucent.  Add rice and stir to coat grains with oil.  Cook until rice grains are completely translucent.

Reducing heat to low, add wine and cook until wine is absorbed.  Add broth 1/2 cup at a time.  Cook and allow each 1/2 cup of broth to be absorbed before adding next 1/2 cup (takes about 15-20 minutes).  After risotto is creamy (chewy but fully cooked), remove from heat and add rest of butter (1 tablespoon) and cheese, then salt and pepper. 

Add other vegetables such as peas during last 5 minutes.  Or add mushrooms when adding the onions.  You can herb this up or add meat or fish, blanched or fully cooked vegetables, etc.

This is a great bland yet tasty, soothing meal.


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Comments 34 comments

Heather63 profile image

Heather63 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

Really good info for anyone who suffers from these issues or who knows someone who does. You offer encouragement and practical help - I hope a lot of people check this out!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Healthylife - I totally agree and thanks so much for stopping by. It is a painful thing, chemo and anything we can do to combat the side effects if one must endure....priceless!


healthylife2 profile image

healthylife2 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

This is a very useful article dealing with the numerous side effects of chemotherapy. There is no need to accept the side effects if something can be done to compensate. Treatment is challenging enough!


Dave 4 years ago

Has anyone heard of the book "Killing Cancer - Not People"? The author is Robert Wright. I'vereaditandfoundit to be extremely helpful for everyone - not just those diagnosed with cancer.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Daniel - so glad you are a success story and truly believe everything you have pointed out. Good nutrition can help you before you get cancer and especially after if you happen to be so unlucky. Thanks for sharing your truly remarkable story and your spot-on point of view!


DanielNeff profile image

DanielNeff 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

Very well-researched and well-written. I went through cancer 12 years ago and remember the side effects well. For me, traditional treatment did not work, but after following an alternative treatment that focuses on nutrition, I survived "terminal" cancer.

A kind of catch-22 with traditional treatment is that chemo destroys your immune system, and foods that are most beneficial to your immune system - raw fruits and raw vegetables - are frowned upon because they can contain bacteria that you are especially susceptible to...because your immune system is suppressed.

I heavily recommend for anyone who has gone through treatment for cancer, as well as those who have not had cancer and don't want to get it, that you strongly consider good nutrition.

I wrote a book about my experience. See my profile if you want to know more.

Thanks again for all the information, voted up and useful.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks Prasetio - indeed, a hard thing to go through and hoping it does help many folks! Thanks so much for the read.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Hi, Audrey. I know it looks hard for patient who suggested with this treatment. Especially for cancer patient. But you have valuable information about good nutritions after chemotherapy. I hope many people will read this hub. Rated up!

Prasetio


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Jasper420 - Thanks so much for stopping by and yes indeed I researched it a lot for personal reasons....hoping it can help many more folks.


jasper420 5 years ago

well done i can tell you spent alot of time putting this hub together it is very useful and very well put together i think many could benefit from reading this hub


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks Mimi for the read -and I hear you completely!


Mimi721wis profile image

Mimi721wis 5 years ago

Thanks for this useful information. I've had to feed a few friends and relatives with cancer. It's really difficult to witness a person experiencing hunger and nausea at the same time.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks Bayoulady - and sorry if you had to go through that...it's hard watching someone else go through it but experiencing it must be so much worse. I hope I did cover it adequately and it will be a useful source for people. Wishing you continued good health!!


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 5 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Brings back memories.......rate up USEFUL, and awesome. Certainly to be a great reference for victims of this horrible disease for years to come.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Genna - Thanks so much for the read and for the comment. I know from working in medicine myself it can all seem overwhelming and hoping to clarify some of this stuff for others~!


Genna East 5 years ago

Such an excellent hub! Csncer patients are often confused by the array of seemingly contradictory advice about nutrition and supplements that are and are not allowed during chemo. Well done!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Truer words were never spoken~!


MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Ha, Audrey, Governments are the same the world over! :)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Marie - Thanks so much for the insightful comment and yes, it's always nice to know that our money is going to the right place and doing some good! Wish we could say the same for the government...ha ha


MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Very comprehensive and informative for anyone going through cancer, well done Audrey. You've covered a lot of areas someone having chemo would need to know.

Having just been to a "Biggest Morning Tea" fundraiser (a sister-in-law of mine organises it), I had to read this article.

The speaker at the event was very positive about the breakthroughs that are happening and how fundraisers such as this one were helping. Good to know our money is doing some good.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks, Nell~! Hope so!!!!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, Audrey, what a great hub for people in this situation, this will be very helpful, rated up, cheers nell


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks, Deborah~ Namaste to you as well.


Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 5 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

Thanks for such a well researched and comprehensive hub. Very well done.

Namaste.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks, Crewman6 for the read. I really didn't know that much about this either until it struck close to home. It's a hard thing to go through and hoping this may find its way into others' hands who might use it to ease their pain, too!


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 5 years ago

Wow- This is a major hub. It never even occurred to me you could adjust diet to compensate for cancer treatment. Wonderful work, great subject. I learned a lot.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

BJ - You can't keep a girl down for long - so indeed yes, my friend, I'm baaacck....Glad you liked!

LLW - You hit the nail on the head there - it is devastating to the body and anything you can do to stay nutritionally sound is a plus! Hope this helps with that.

Dorea - Thank you SO much for stopping by - this is for you and Steve most definitely!!! More to come!!

Hanna - Thank you dear for your kind comments (as always).

Om - I think the chemo and the treatments are worse in many ways than the cancer itself. If it works, that's all that matters, but the goal is to stay healthy in the meantime - not an easy task it seems. Glad you liked and thanks as always for your support!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

Audrey, this is so informative and well-organized. For some cancer patients, chemotherapy can be almost as horrible to go through as cancer itself. Thanks for doing thorough research and sharing this valuable information. It is certainly a hub to be read and shared!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

This must be a great help to people who had chemotherapy which must be awful the endure. Well worded and detailed information. A splendidn hub.


Dorea 5 years ago

Lots of great information! I'll check out the melon popsicles and see if Steve likes them!! This is really helpful for people having to go through this tough treatment process! Thanks!


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

Lots and lots of useful information. Good nutrition is always important, but especially after the body has been through something as devastating as chemo.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

What a wealth of information there is here, Audrey. You have outdone yourself wih the research, the writing and the entire layout. You most definitely fill a need with this essential information concerning the best nutrition after chemotherapy. The recipe for melon popsicles is especially appealing. Thank you.

BTW - missed you. Delighted to see you back in the Hub.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks, Will!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Well researched and very useful. Up and awesome.

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