You know it’s true:
Nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment and recovery.
There are also certain foods that can help ease the side effects induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy on the body –
so knowing what to eat during and after treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger.
Here are a variety of diet tips and meal recipes for cancer patients on chemo and radiation therapy.
Just scroll down to read on, or head to a specific category by clicking one of the links below:
– Expert tips from nutritionists: Diet for cancer patients on Chemo and Radiation
– What To Eat Before Chemo
– Recipes for chemo patients with Nausea and Vomiting: Best Foods To Eat
– Chemotherapy diet recipes and restrictions for cancer patients with Diarrhea
– Food recipes for chemo and radiotherapy patients with Constipation
– Meal recipes for cancer patients with No Appetite or Mouth Sores
– Best Foods for chemotherapy patients
Expert Tips: Diet for Cancer Patients on Chemo and Radiation
According to American Cancer Society, chemo and radiation therapy may damage healthy cells in the body and cause side effects like nausea, mouth sores, no appetite, diarrhea, and constipation.
Recommended Read: 93 Chemo Side Effects Remedies that Cancer Patients Wish To Know
Learning food tips from professional experts like dietitians and nutrition specialists can certainly help the patient throughout the cancer treatment journey.
Let’s start with the video below by registered dietitian Sonia Marcil of The Ottawa Hospital, who shared tips on how to manage nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment:
Sonia’s tips and recommendations for patients with nausea after chemo and radiation:
- Food to eat: Pretzels, plain crackers, rice, pasta, potatoes or bagels, breakfast cereals, eggs, cheese, tuna or egg salad sandwich.
- Drink to consider: Non-acidic diluted juices such as peach juice, pear juice or mango juice; Bouillon, consomme, or broth.
Stacy Kennedy, a nutrition specialist for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, shares her tips on how to manage symptoms associated with cancer and chemotherapy treatment (eg. mouth sores):
As a cancer survivor, registered dietitian Jean LaMantia RD knows very well that no appetite is a common side effect of cancer treatment:
While she recommends to eat plant based food (eg. vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds) —
Jean and Neil Berinstein MD have revealed the details in their authoritative book “The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook: Includes 150 Healthy and Delicious Recipes” which is highly rated by cancer patients / survivors / caregivers.
Jean’s nutrition tips are echoed by registered dietitian Valerie Butram, who recommends foods with fiber and lean protein in the video below:
Lastly, watch this video for helpful nutrition tips to manage diarrhea and constipation — as recommended by Charis Spielman, certified specialist in oncology nutrition.
What To Eat Before Chemo
Drink as much fluids as you can the night before and the morning of your chemo session.
Keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water will:
- help the nurse to find your vein easier for infusion,
- make the chemo drug to process better in your body,
- flush the chemotherapy toxicity out of the body later, while
- avoid dehydration caused by potential chemo side effects of diarrhea and vomiting.
One common question is: “Should I eat breakfast before chemotherapy?”
If you are not fasting for CT exams or other reasons, eat light 2 to 3 hours before chemo.
Choose a low fat meal high in lean protein and complex carbohydrates, or high-fiber food that help retain moisture in the bowels.
Recipes For Chemo and Radiation Patients with NAUSEA and Vomiting
Chemotherapy and radiation may cause nausea and vomiting when body tries to get rid of the toxins (eg. due to chemo drugs). This common side effect can start within the first few hours after chemo drugs are given, and may last several days.
Recommended Read: Cancer Patients Revealed 17 Must-Have Items in Chemo Bag Survival Kit
Check out the following recipes, including BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) which was once a diet used to be routinely recommended to people with upset stomachs, especially children.
Recipe #1: Banana Oatmeal Cookies with 3 Ingredients
Bananas can help restore potassium which is often depleted as a result of vomiting (and diarrhea). Indeed, if the chemo side effect of nausea leads to vomiting, most doctors recommend starting on “bland” foods like bananas when you are ready to eat solids again.
You can just eat the banana as it is when you feel like snacking between meals, or you can check out the 3-ingredient banana oatmeal cookies below.
If you don’t like chocolate chip, you can swap out this 3rd ingredient and replace it with other healthy choice such as raisins.
Recipe #2: Homemade Applesauce
A study conducted by Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center shows light bland diet meal that included applesauce, alongside cottage cheese and vanilla ice cream, helped to reduce nausea and vomiting for people undergoing chemo.
Homemade applesauce like below is an excellent addition to your baking, in which it can be used as an egg substitute in cakes, brownies, and cupcakes.
Recipe #3: Very Easy Ginger Tea by Health and Wellness Chef
Ginger has many natural medicinal properties and particularly as an antiemetic to prevent vomiting.
In video below, health and wellness chef Alia Dalal shows you how to use ginger to combat chemo-induced nausea. You can add honey, lemon, or cinnamon as you like.
Recipe #4: Special Ginger Dressing on Salad with Spinach, Almond, Sunflower Seeds.
In addition to ginger tea, Ellen Barrett shows another great way to incorporate ginger into your diet:
A salad recipe with baby spinach, sliced almond, sunflower seeds, and her favorite ginger dressing prepared with ginger, mustard, and honey.
Cold foods like this meal recipe are better tolerated than hot foods, as they tend to produce less odor that may make cancer patients with nausea and vomiting feel more sick.
Recipe #5: Mint Avocado Smoothie
A study published in the eCancerMedicalScience journal shows peppermint can help to reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy.
Check out this mint avocado smoothie recipe:
- 1 scooped avocado
- 1 peeled and sliced banana
- Juice of 1/2 lime (which also helps nausea and diarrhea)
- 20 mint leaves
- 5 ice cubes
- 4 TBSP of whole milk
- 4 TBSP of plain yogurt
Recipe #6: Baked Cinnamon Apples
According to report published in Oncology & Hematology Review journal, herbal teas (such as cinnamon bark and peppermint) have been recommended for the relief of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Another study found that cinnamon can help to reduce nausea caused by menstrual pain.
You can add dashes of cinnamon into the meals that you prepare, or you can check out the baked cinnamon apples recipe below to get some inspirations:
- Red and green apple slices (2 cups)
- Cinnamon (1/2 TSP)
- Apple pie spice (1/4 TSP)
- Golden raisins (1/2 cup)
- Chopped walnuts, almonds, or pecans. (1/4 cup)
Chemotherapy Diet Recipes For Cancer Patients With DIARRHEA
During diarrhea, avoid fatty or fried foods, raw vegetables, and vegetables with a lot of insoluble fiber (such as broccoli and cauliflower) that can increase the bowel action.
Recommended Read: Research and User Reviews show Natural Mushroom Extract AHCC Significantly Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects on Cancer Patients
People with diarrhea should eat foods that are high in protein / calories, or bland foods such as oatmeal, plain white rice, white bread, breakfast cereals, pretzels, and bananas.
Here are additional diet recipes that can help —
Recipe #7: Baked Creamy Mashed Potato
When you have diarrhea, Canadian Cancer Society recommends to eat high-potassium foods to replace potassium lost.
One of these foods is potato, so you can consider mashed, baked, or boiled sweet potatoes.
The following is an example of baked creamy mashed potato recipe, in which you can replace the creme fraiche with substitutes like Greek yogurt.
Recipe #8: Creative Greek Chicken Wrap
Plain yogurt is recommended, and Greek yogurt with high protein is definitely a good choice.
The video below covers a creative Greek chicken wrap recipe using chicken breast and Greek yogurt alongside other ingredients, that you can draw some inspirations from:
Recipe #9: Simple Protein Pancake with Cottage Cheese
With Stanford Health Care recommends the high protein cottage cheese as a good food choice if patient experience diarrhea after treatment, then the popular protein pancake is certainly worth to try.
Below is a simple whey protein pancake with 4 ingredients recipe:
- Whey protein powder (1/2 scoop)
- Cottage cheese (1/4 cup)
- Egg whites (1/2 cup)
- Oats (1/4 cup)
Food Recipes For Chemo and Radiotherapy Patients With CONSTIPATION
According to Oncology Nutrition:
- Soluble fiber is good for both constipation and diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, apples, strawberries, pears, white rice, and potatoes.
- Foods high in insoluble fiber are best for constipation only. Foods high in insoluble fiber (that should be avoided during diarrhea as mentioned above) include vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, wheat bran, nuts, seeds, etc.
Here are some high fibre diet recipes for patients who experience constipation after chemo and radiation therapy, while eating small amounts of foods several times a day instead of 3 large meals will help you digest better:
Recipe #10: Red Kidney Bean with Brown Rice
Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, so taking beans like kidney beans and navy beans during constipation can really help.
This is a sample recipe of red kidney bean with brown rice. Other ingredients are bell pepper, cilantro, garlic, etc.
Recipe #11: Easy Baked Pears Recipe
Eating more fruit with high dietary fiber can be a constipation remedy, while this is an easy baked pears recipe that you can try:
- 4 Ripe Pears
- Walnuts (1/2 Cup)
- Raisins (1/4 Cup)
- Ground Cinnamon (1/2 Teaspoon)
Recipe #12: Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower
This diabetic friendly dish recipe combines the two high fibre vegetables, and make them a delicious meal to eat while help your bowel movement.
Meal Recipes For Cancer Patients with NO APPETITE or MOUTH SORES
When the patient does not have appetite, try to eat small frequent meals/snacks instead of large meals, eat what you feel like and when you feel like it, and eat more on days when you have an appetite and feel well.
Recommended Read: 121 Gift Ideas For Patients Undergoing Chemo and Radiation Therapy
Many chemo diet recipes mentioned above are also suitable for patients with no appetite —
such as protein pancake, baked creamy mashed potato, spinach salad with ginger dressing, applesauce, and baked cinnamon apples.
Here are more soft food meal ideas to be considered, esp. when mouth sores make eating difficult:
Recipe #13: Healthy Bone Broth with Vegetables
Bone broth has many health benefits, and it is made by simmering animal bones for several hours to release the nutrients found in the bones, marrow, and cartilage.
Liquid food like broth is easy to consume when you don’t have appetite, especially if you also experience mouth sore which is another common side effect of chemo and radiotherapy.
In video below, Sara Lynn Cauchon shares her broth recipe with beef bones, leeks, carrot, celery, onion, and garlic.
Recipe #14: High Calories Milkshake
When you don’t have appetite, try high protein and high calories diet that are easy to consume, such as milkshake.
Make a high calories milkshake such as the example below, with these ingredients like Whole milk (2 cups), oats (1 cup), bananas (2), strawberries (1 cup), vanilla extract (1 TSP).
Recipe #15: Power Protein Soup
While soup is another great liquid food to take, you can try strong flavorings or spices.
The following powerful soup with strong flavor is fueled with protein from beans like black-eye beans, kidney beans, and butter beans.
Recipe #16: Easy Peanut Butter French Toast Rolls-Ups
According to Mayo Clinic —
cancer patient’s need for calories and protein may be greater than usual, and one easy way to do it is by spreading peanut butter or other nut butters (with protein and healthy fats) on toast and bread.
Alternatively, you can try the peanut butter French toast rolls-ups with the following recipe:
- White bread (8 slices)
- Peanut butter
- 2 Eggs
- Evaporated mile (1 TBSP)
- Vanilla extract
Recipe #17: High Protein Ezekiel Bread Toast
If you like bread toast, you can combine Ezekiel bread and Avocado with other high protein foods —
such as boiled eggs, smoked salmon, tuna, and others as shown in the 11 avocado toast recipes below.
Recipe #18: Pan Seared Salmon Recipe with Lemon Butter
Soft meat like fish that requires less chewing is a good choice when you have no appetite, and using Use garnishes such as lemon or lime wedges can help to increase appetite.
Check out the yummy salmon recipe below, with ingredients like freshly squeezed lemon juice, grated lemon zest, black pepper, and unsalted butter.
Recipe #19: Crispy Sweet & Sour ToFu
Derived from soybeans, tofu is a high protein food that is soft to eat.
Best Foods for Chemotherapy Patients
In addition to the diet tips and food to eat when you experience above-mentioned side effects with chemotherapy, you can check out this guide by National Cancer Institute on the recommended foods for people with cancer.