Achieving good nutrition before, during and after cancer treatment is important. Our registered dietitian helps patients prepare for treatment, manage side effects and symptoms, and maintain a healthy weight.
A meeting with our dietitian may be helpful if you have specific nutrition concerns, are having trouble with eating and/or weight loss, or are having difficulty taking in adequate nutrition.
- Early nutrition intervention based on specific risk factors
- Preventing or correcting nutritional deficiencies
- Managing side effects of cancer and treatment
- Enhancing quality of life during treatment
- Helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Helping you manage diabetes during treatment
- Meal/menu planning and recipe development
- Management of tube feedings and IV parenteral nutrition
- Educating patients and families members of special nutrition needs
- Connecting patients with nutrition resources in the community
- Providing consistent, ongoing follow-up throughout the cancer journey
Cancer patients experience a variety of symptoms as a result of cancer or its treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Please select a symptom below for guidelines on staying healthy during your treatment.
- Try eating small frequent meals throughout the day to help control nausea. Sometimes eating a small portion of food every 2-3 hours can help improve this symptom.
- Dry, starchy foods like crackers or bread may also help settle your stomach.
- Instead of drinking liquids with your meals, have them in between meals so that you do not feel full quickly. Drink clear liquids frequently throughout the day (at least 8 cups total) to help prevent dehydration.
- Choose bland food items and avoid foods that are too spicy, greasy, fatty or sweet.
- Pick cold or room temperature foods, as warm or hot foods may have odors that may increase nausea.
- Foods containing ginger (ginger tea, ginger ale, fresh or powdered ginger) may also help relieve nausea.
- Take your anti-nausea medication as prescribed or ask your doctor about medications that can increase your appetite or decrease nausea and vomiting.
Diet can help relieve temporary diarrhea resulting from radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications. Some foods and liquids increase the risk of developing diarrhea, while others are known to control diarrhea. This page is intended to provide tips on which foods and liquids to choose during this time. Talk with your registered dietitian for recommendations regarding your individual situation.
Drinking fluids by mouth is the first way to help restore fluids lost in the stool. Drink about 1 cup of liquid following each loose stool or mostly watery discharge. Also try to include some fluids that have calories. Depending on your taste preferences, you may want to select from sports drinks (e.g., Gatorade), bouillon and broth-based soups. Try to avoid carbonated, alcoholic, and caffeinated beverages, and chocolate because they could worsen diarrhea.
Try to avoid becoming dehydrated. Drinking at least eight glasses of liquids between meals will prevent dehydration. Some people tolerate liquids at room temperature better than if either too hot or too cold. You may wish to limit or avoid milk until diarrhea is no longer a problem. Yogurt with probiotics is a good source for calcium, and it also helps to restore the health of the colon.
Foods to Eat
Follow the BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast. Other foods to eat during episodes of diarrhea include crackers, pretzels, apricots, applesauce, mashed potatoes, noodles, cream of wheat or cream of rice, smooth peanut butter, eggs prepared any way but fried, skinless poultry, mild white fish, lean beef, low-fat cottage cheese and canned vegetables. It is best to eat small, frequent snacks and meals instead of larger meals.
Foods to Avoid
Stay away from greasy, deep-fried, fatty foods and rich sauces because these may worsen diarrhea. Sugary or very spicy foods may also be bothersome. Sugar-free gums and candies usually contain sugar alcohols (sweeteners) that may cause diarrhea. Any foods that form gas will likely be a cause for diarrhea also. Some of foods to avoid are: onions, beans, cabbage, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, whole grain breads and cereals, nuts and popcorn.
When to Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you experience black, bloody or tarry stools, moderate to severe cramping and bloating, dizziness or a fever. If you have a significant change in bowel habits and/or you have bothersome symptoms, call your doctor.
Some medications used in treating cancer, pain and other conditions may cause infrequent or hard bowel movements. Without exercise and adequate fluid and fiber in the diet, one might also experience constipation.
- Try to drink 64 oz (about 8 cups) daily of water along with juice like prune juice.
- Increase activity with doctor approval. Try light yard and housework or a nice walk.
- Add unprocessed wheat bran to cereals, casseroles, and homemade breads.
- Eat high-fiber foods such as fruit (apple, blueberries, raspberries), vegetables (carrots, potatoes, corn), whole-grain breads and cereals (oatmeal, whole wheat bread, bran cereal), legumes* (baked, black, kidney, northern beans and nuts)
- Drink warm fluids like decaf tea and coffee, cider, and cocoa
- Take laxatives or stool softeners without checking with your doctor first.
- Increase your fiber intake too quickly.
*Some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, legumes (beans), and carbonated beverages can cause uncomfortable gas. Introduce them slowly into your diet and monitor how they affect you.
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least eight cups of water per day.
- Rinse mouth every two hours with saline solution (one teaspoon of salt to one quart of warm water) or baking soda solution (½ teaspoon in one cup of tap water).
- Try sugar-free hard candies and sugar-free chewing gum.
- Drink liquids with meals to moisten foods and to help with swallowing.
- Add liquids to solid foods (e.g., gravy, sauce, milk, yogurt).
- Use artificial saliva, available at drugstores.
- Use petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, or mild lip balm to keep lips moist.
- Pineapple chunks, ice cubes and frozen tonic water, yogurt and buttermilk can also be helpful, although some people find that very cold foods or drinks may be too uncomfortable to use.
- Avoid hot, spicy, or acidic foods.
- Avoid chewy candies, tough meats, and hard raw fruits or vegetables.
- Avoid alcohol, including store-bought mouthwashes.
- Avoid tobacco.
Practice good oral care!
- Brush teeth, gums, tongue after every meal and before bed.
- Also consider rinsing your mouth out before every meal with a solution of water, salt, and baking soda (1 quart water, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda).
- Avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes.
- Add flavor by using tart foods in cooking or food preparation, such as lemon wedges, fruit, citrus fruit or vinegar. Note if you have mouth sores, these foods may cause discomfort, so use caution.
- Eat frozen fruit for a strong-flavored snack.
- Use plastic utensils with meals if you have a metallic taste.
- Experiment with different seasonings while cooking, such as onion, garlic, Italian seasonings, etc.
- Marinate meats with sweet juices, fruits, or acidic salad dressings to help improve flavor.
- If smells of foods are bothersome, serve foods cold or at room temperature and avoid the kitchen while foods are cooking.
- Drink beverages from a cup with a lid and straw.
- Overall, choose an inviting and enjoyable place to consume your meals. You want eating to be as stress-free and relaxing as possible!
- Try eating small meals/snacks consisting of high-calorie/high-protein foods every 2-3 hours throughout the day.
- Choose beverages that are high in calories and protein. Avoid low-calorie beverages such as diet-soda or coffee.
- Vary your menu: try new foods, seasonings or recipes to prevent boredom.
- If you tolerate liquids best, add milk, powdered milk, yogurt or honey.
- Carry grab-and-go snacks with you at all times, such as peanut butter and crackers, dried fruits, and nuts.
- Set up an enjoyable environment for meals. Examples: use a cheerful tablecloth, add flowers to the table, or play light music.
- Use meal times to meet with friends and family. Take time to socialize.
- Eat whenever you feel hungry and whatever you are hungry for.
- Stay as active as possible. Increased activity can help stimulate an appetite. Examples include a light walk, chores around the house or yard, or running errands for an hour or two during the day.
- If you find that a certain time of day is better for a meal than others, try to consume high-calorie foods during that time.
Please contact our Saint Louis University Cancer Center registered dietitian for specific nutrition questions during your treatment: 314-268-7033.
When you're being treated for cancer, your immune system may be weak, unable to fight off infections caused by food. Therefore, you should always make sure that your food is safe to eat and safely prepared.
- Practice good hand washing before you touch or prepare any foods (scrub hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds).
- Be sure to wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave; never on the counter at room temperature or under water. Cook foods immediately after thawing.
- Never eat raw eggs or products with raw eggs.
- Always eat well-cooked or well-done meat, fish, and poultry. Avoid raw or rare foods.
- Cook all protein foods to the proper, internal temperature:
- Red meats: 145° F
- Ground beef: 165° F
- Poultry: 165° F
- Leftovers or casseroles: 165° F
- Do not eat anything past the stated expiration date on the food.
- Store dry products away from moisture.
- Store refrigerated items at or below 40° F.
- Keep freezer set at 0° F or below.
- Do not purchase dented, leaking or rusted canned foods.
- Wash tops of canned goods before opening.
- Use different utensils, including knives and cutting boards, for raw and for cooked meats that are different from other foods.
- Use a dishwasher whenever possible. The temperatures are higher than hand washing and have a greater ability to kill bacteria.
- Do not purchase food items from bulk bins or buffets at grocery stores, as you cannot be sure these were stored at the proper temperature.
- Consume leftovers within 3-4 days, then throw away. Store cooked foods in the refrigerator within one hour following the cooking process.
Meet Our Registered Dietitian
Kirsten Thomas, MS, RD, LD, received her Masters of Science in Medical Dietetics from Saint Louis University in 2015. Kirsten meets with patients and their family members to develop individualized strategies for managing symptoms and maintaining weight during and following treatment. You can reach Kirsten at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-268-7033.