Managing Common Eating Difficulties During and After Treatment

During cancer treatment, it is important to maintain a healthy diet to nourish your body with the necessary calories and nutrients needed for energy, repair, recovery, and healing. However, side effects can make it challenging to eat during and after treatment causing eating difficulties.

Learn about food suggestions you can try when experiencing common eating difficulties.

Nausea

Nausea is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Even the anticipation before treatment can cause nausea.

Foods you can try to help with nausea:

  • Toast and crackers
  • Yogurt
  • Sherbet
  • Popsicles
  • Pretzels
  • Angel food cake
  • Canned fruits such as peaches, pears, fruit cocktail
  • Skinned chicken
  • Oatmeal
  • Broths

You should avoid any foods that are:

  • Greasy
  • Fatty
  • Fried
  • Spicy
  • Very sweet
  • Strong odor

Vomiting

For vomiting, you can try small amounts of clear liquids or soft foods such as:

  • Cranberry juice
  • Cool broth
  • Flat soda since carbonated drinks can lead to vomiting in some people
  • Cream of wheat
  • Pudding
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Gelatin

Diarrhea

Diarrhea can also be caused by cancer treatment including chemotherapy, radiation therapy to the abdomen, and surgery. Besides treatment, there are other possible causes for diarrhea such as infection, food sensitivity, and emotional upset. If you experience severe or long-term diarrhea, inform your doctor. This type of diarrhea may cause dehydration, nutrient loss, and other health problems.

Foods you can try to help with diarrhea are:

  • Rice
  • Noodles
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Bananas
  • Puréed vegetables
  • Applesauce
  • White bread
  • Skinned turkey or chicken
  • Fish
  • Mashed potatoes

Foods to avoid are:

  • Raw vegetables and fruits
  • High-fiber vegetables such as broccoli, corn, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and peas
  • Onions and strong spices
  • Greasy, fatty or fried foods
  • Alcoholic beverages

Constipation

Patients will experience constipation as a result of some cancer treatments and pain medications. It also occurs if you are not eating enough fiber or drinking enough fluids. Additionally, you can become constipated if you are on a feeding tube or physically inactive for an extended period of time.

For constipation, you can try drinking:

  • Water
  • Prune juice
  • Warm juices
  • Decaffeinated teas
  • Hot lemonade

Your goal should be to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day.

Foods you can try to help with constipation:

  • High-fiber vegetables such as broccoli, corn, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and peas
  • Whole-grain bread

Sore mouth, tongue, and throat

Cancer patients especially head and neck cancer patients experience soreness in the mouth, tongue and throat. Consult your doctor to ensure that the soreness is not due to an infection.

Foods you can try when experiencing sore mouth, tongue, and throat:

  • Bananas
  • Applesauce
  • Watermelon
  • Canned fruits
  • Peach
  • Pear or apricot nectars
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Milkshakes
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Custards
  • Pudding
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Oatmeal

The foods to avoid are:

  • Hot or spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Hard to chew foods

If you have any questions or are concerned about which foods you should try, please ask your doctor or consult our dietitian.

*Reference: The American Institute for Cancer Research