Nutrition is an important part of remaining healthy for everyone, but for individuals receiving cancer treatment, nutrition is critical. Side effects of treatment—such as nausea or decreased appetite—can make eating a healthy, well-balanced diet challenging. While not all foods work for everyone, below is a list of foods to assist in maintaining adequate nutrition when fighting through the side effects of cancer treatment.
- Eggs – Extra protein may be necessary at times during treatment and eggs are a great source for it, packing in seven grams per egg. Egg yolk is also rich in vitamins D and E. In some studies, vitamin E, an antioxidant, was shown to protect the body from the powerful toxins of cancer drugs that cause side effects.
- Ginger – Chemotherapy treatments are known for causing nausea and vomiting. From ginger supplements to ginger ale, ginger has been found to help reduce chemotherapy side effects.
- Soy – Soy contains a phytoestrogen called Genistein, which studies show to be toxic to cancer cells. Genistein may also assist in making chemotherapy work faster by helping the drugs kill tumor cells or inhibit further dividing. Sources of soy include tofu, soy flour, soy protein isolates and some dietary supplements. Discuss adding soy to your diet with your provider, as there are some contradictory findings with its efficacy.
- Peppermint – Peppermint hard candies and peppermint tea may help relieve nausea. They also relieve any bad taste in your mouth, which can affect your interest in eating.
- Beans and legumes – Another excellent source of protein: beans and legumes. These foods aid in cell repair and healing and are a natural source of B vitamins. B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and colbalamin, assist with energy production, maintaining healthy skin and keep the nervous, immune and digestive systems healthy.
- Broths and sports drinks – Hydration is essential during cancer treatment. Beef, chicken or vegetable broths help with electrolyte balance, particularly during bouts of vomiting or diarrhea. Sipping on clear liquids during the day will maintain hydration. Try sports drinks, juice, water or even popsicles.
- Vegetables – Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and Romaine lettuce are good sources of vitamins A, E and K, as well as the mineral iron. Incorporate these into your diet by steaming, sautéing or adding to soups. These greens contain the cancer-fighting nutrients beta-carotene, lutein, folic acid and phytochemicals needed to aid in preventing certain cancers.
- Milkshakes or smoothies – Milkshakes and smoothies can be a nutrient-dense, soothing option during treatment. Since the aroma of cooked foods can worsen nausea, consuming a scent-free, calorie/nutrient-dense shake can get you through that bump in your treatment. If you are intolerant to dairy, try commercial nutrition supplements instead.
If these suggestions or other remedies you have tried do not relieve side effects of your cancer treatment, remember to consult with your provider or speak with a registered dietitian for further assistance.