The do’s and dont’s of eating well on chemo

Published: March 2, 2017

If you’re going through chemotherapy at the moment, or you’re about to embark on treatment, paying attention to your health and wellbeing is really important.

Nutrition is a key part of fighting cancer, but you may not always feel like eating during chemotherapy. In fact, many cancer sufferers experience problems when trying to eat or drink, such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea

This can make mealtimes an unpleasant experience, but there are certain things you can do to make staying healthy easier – and fight some of the digestive side effects of chemotherapy.

What to eat on chemotherapy

As chemotherapy weakens your immune system, eating foods packed with vitamins and minerals will help boost your body’s ability fight disease. But at the same time, you need to take extra care – and avoid items that carry a greater risk of food poisoning.

  1. Rare meat, smoked fish and raw fish are likely to contain more bacteria than meat and fish that has been cooked through, for example. The same goes for soft cheeses and products with ‘soft cooked’ (such as poached or soft boiled) eggs. It’s best to avoid products made with raw eggs, such as mayonnaise.
  2. Make sure you wash all fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption, and discard any bruised or scarred fruit that is past its best.
  3. When you’re at home, it’s important to cook from fresh where possible – avoid reheating leftovers, as this can cause bacteria to multiply. Make sure you store any uncooked foods in airtight containers; never put aluminum cans in the refrigerator.
  4. If you’re eating out, avoid pre-prepared salads, salad bars and buffets, as they could contain dishes that were made several hours earlier. You may wish to choose freshly cooked vegetarian options as well, to avoid the food poisoning risk associated with certain meats such as chicken and pork, and fish and seafood.

What to drink on chemotherapy

Paying attention to your liquid consumption is also important when undergoing chemotherapy.

  1. Drink plenty of water to make sure you are well hydrated at all times. Bottled water is the safest option, as tap water is fine for healthy people, but has not been tested on those with a weakened immune system.
  2. Alcohol is best avoided during treatment, as are any unpasteurized drinks, such as some types of milk and raw juices

If you are in any doubt whether you’re eating or drinking the right thing while going through chemotherapy, talk to a member of your medical support team. They will be able to offer advice and help you build a nutritional program that supports your recovery.

How did chemo impact your eating habits? Share your experiences on our Facebook page.

If you have any questions about cold capping, or anything else related to your chemo treatment, why not join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group – with thousands of members reaching out to each other, someone will no doubt be able to offer you first hand advice.