Specialized Nutrition Series: During Cancer Treatments

Nutrition plays a vital role in your health at all times, but especially during cancer treatments. 

What you eat determines if your body will have the vitamins and minerals it needs to upkeep your health and prevent diseases. Setting healthy eating patterns before cancer treatment is excellent, but it is important to maintain those patterns during treatment.  Maintaining good nutrition is imperative to optimal cancer treatment outcomes.

Understanding what you can experience and how to alleviate symptoms beforehand can significantly reduce aftereffects and mental distress. This knowledge can also aid in adjusting your diet as you need while processing treatment.

What to Expect During Cancer Treatments

To start, let’s understand how cancer treatments can affect your nutrition. Your potential side effects will depend on your cancer treatment.

While your oncology dietitian will be able to discuss symptoms more specifically with you, the general side effects of cancer treatment include nausea, decreased appetite, weight fluctuation, and difficulty swallowing. Depending on where you receive radiation, it can have adverse results on the organs in that area.

The side effects from cancer treatments cannot be treated any one way, as variables such as your health before treatment, current allergies, and dietary needs are important for tailoring a nutritional plan. Fortunately, eating healthily is a common denominator in every treatment plan, so let’s discuss how what you eat can help reduce the side effects of cancer treatments.

Treating Different Side Effects Through Nutrition

What you eat has the power to transform your body for better or worse. Committing to eating healthy foods does not have to be a boring journey, and you may be surprised to find new recipes you enjoy as well as the benefits that come from eating well. Below, we cover the more common side effects of cancer treatments as well as a few foods that can help you recover.


Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause nausea because the medications are processed through your body, which can create discomfort. The emetogenic potential – the chances of nausea – is listed for each cancer treatment, which will help you determine beforehand if this is a symptom you could experience.

If you do feel nausea, your appetite can dwindle as a result and it may be more difficult for your body to process the nutrients it needs. To combat this, avoid eating foods that are spicy and heavy in oils and fats. Instead, choose bland, low-fat foods such as rice and bread to decrease the chances of upsetting your digestive system. 

Decreased Appetite

Loss of appetite can come as a result of cancer and its treatment. This is also known as cachexia. Cancer treatment can throw off the signals that indicate whether or not you feel hungry. This decrease in appetite does not mean that your body does not need as much food. If anything, your body will need you to feed it highly nutritious foods to help recover from treatment. 

This does not mean you must overeat either. Foods high in protein and calories don’t equate to large portions. Yogurt, smoothies, eggs, and nuts are chock-full of protein and can be eaten in small doses. 

What is most important is to establish a regular eating pattern for yourself. Eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day is a good way to space out your nutrients so that you do not feel overwhelmed. If your decreased appetite persists, please inform your dietitian. They can help ensure your body has the necessary resources to recover. 

Weight Fluctuation

Loss or increase in appetite can lead to weight fluctuation during cancer treatments, but occasionally, eating normally can lead to weight fluctuation as well. This can happen as a result of poor nutrition that is not meeting your body’s new needs. Maintaining a healthy consistent weight will help you persist through cancer treatments. 

To keep from gaining weight, stay hydrated with water and low-calorie fluids such as lemon seltzer water. Avoid high-calorie greasy foods like pizza and instead eat foods with monounsaturated fat (avocados, most nuts, olives, etc.) to help your body regulate your weight.

To keep from losing weight, maintain a nutritious diet. If you are doing this and still are losing weight, your body is possibly not digesting those nutrients. Contact your dietitian to determine if this is the case. A possible solution is to drink more of your diet through smoothies and juices. 

Meet With an Oncology Dietitian

Ultimately, working with an oncology dietitian will help you the most when it comes to deciding the best meals and diet during your cancer treatments. Their expertise will help you adjust to new symptoms and maintain physical strength.  

You can learn more about our nutrition services for cancer survivors here.  Please schedule a free consultation with us to learn how our nutrition and therapy services can help you before, during, and after cancer treatment.  If you would like to schedule a consultation with our Registered Oncology Dietitian, you can contact us to do so. 

Appointments are currently being offered in person at our office or via telehealth.  We are dedicated to serving our patients with the utmost care and attention to detail and all COVID precautions are in place for in-office visits.