Your Best Diet When Undergoing Cancer Treatment

Date: Mar 16, 2022

Tiffany Barrett, MS, RD, CSO, LD, leads the nutritional services team at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and provides personalized nutrition advice to patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. She suggests the following tips for proper nutrition during cancer treatment.

A healthy diet can quickly take a back seat during cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments can be hard on the body, which makes it difficult to get the nutrients you need. Although cancer treatment effects can differ for each patient, common side effects that can make it difficult to eat a healthy diet may include:

  • Nausea
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Taste Changes
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea

But a healthy diet is more important than ever when undergoing treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, proper nutrition can help patients maintain weight, lower risk of infection, improve energy and better tolerate some side effects.

Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet

When trying to improve your own diet, it’s important to keep in mind that cancer is an individual experience. What tastes good or appeals to one person may make someone else feel worse. The best place to start is with the healthy choices you already like and take small steps that will help combat side effects and boost your diet.

Here are four ways you can improve your diet:

Eat small meals or snacks

Nausea, heartburn or diarrhea can make eating or drinking seem impossible. Try eating small meals or snacks to make the task seem less daunting and help you feel more comfortable.

Make healthy choices

  • Avoid high-fat or spicy foods, which can trigger nausea and heartburn.
  • Find vegetables that are easy on your stomach. Lightly steamed or blanched veggies may help ease heartburn compared to raw veggies.
  • Pair complex carbohydrates with a lean protein. Try whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or eggs and whole grain toast.
  • Reach for healthy snacks, such as nuts, applesauce, yogurt, cheese or guacamole.
  • Try to eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables per meal.

Make simple adjustments

Simple choices throughout the day can help make eating a little easier, including:

  • Eating on a schedule, not always waiting for hunger cues. Plan light snacks as needed based on your schedule or treatment.
  • Staying hydrated. Drinking fluids can help manage some side effects, like constipation, but can sometimes make others worse. Take small sips throughout the day to stay hydrated without upsetting your stomach.
  • Eating food at room temperature. Food that’s too hot or cold can be tough on nausea and heartburn. Let food cool off a bit before eating.

Reach out for help

It can be difficult for some patients to find the balance between managing their side effects and eating a healthy diet. A dietitian can help sort through your questions and side effects to build a strong and healthy diet.

The dietitians at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University help support patients before, during and after treatment by working closely with them to create individualized nutrition plans. Learn more about nutrition services at Winship.

Schedule your appointment today.

About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top 3% of cancer centers nationwide for conducting cancer research and providing training that is transforming cancer care, prevention, detection and survivorship. Winship discovers, develops, delivers and teaches some of the world’s most effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat each patient’s unique cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes specialists with deep expertise and experience in cancer; multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment planning and care coordination that caters to each patient’s individual needs; therapies supported by the latest advances in cancer research; and comprehensive clinical trials and support services.


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