1. Health

Top 7 Diet Tips During Chemotherapy

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Updated June 15, 2007

Chemotherapy drugs can really mess up your diet. There's poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sore mouth and an increased chance of getting an infection. So how should you plan your diet during chemotherapy? Here are some tips on eating while on treatment.

1. Get the better of your poor appetite

Chemotherapy kills your appetite as surely as it kills cancer cells. The very thought of food may make your stomach turn. Try some of the following to make eating a more tolerable experience:

  • Get a little bit of exercise before your meals if you can – take a walk.
  • A bit of variety helps – try new foods and recipes, eat in a different location.
  • A bit of distraction helps too – eat with friends, watch a show on TV when eating alone.

2. Nausea can be controlled – don’t wait to throw up

There are now several effective drugs that are meant for use during chemotherapy. If you feel that your nausea is not well controlled, speak to your doctor about it. You may need a combination of agents, but you can get the better of it.

3. Eat less, but more often

Nausea and poor appetite may prevent you from eating in large quantities. Have small meals, more frequently. You need not take three or four regular meals – have six smaller meals or snacks in a day. Keep food within easy reach, you should not need to make an effort when you need a bite.

4. Don’t compromise on the calories in your diet

It is very important for your diet to contain an adequate amount of calories. Treatment takes a toll on your body even if you may not be very active during treatment. You need plenty of calories in your diet to keep you going. Don’t avoid high calorie food, you need it. Eggs, meat, milk and cheese will keep up your supply of calories. Don’t shy away from fats. If you don’t feel like eating, drink high calorie liquids. There are several products available in stores.

5. You need all the dietary proteins that you can get.

Apart from burning calories, chemotherapy and other treatments that kill cells result in a lot of protein turnover in your body. You need to take in more proteins during chemotherapy than in your usual diet. Eating only fruits and vegetables will not get you all the proteins that you require. Eggs and meat are excellent sources of protein, as are nuts, beans and legumes. Milk and cheese are other good sources. Ask your doctor about protein supplements that you can get from a store.

6. Make sure that food is well cooked and heated.

Chemotherapy is a time when your body’s defenses against infections are low. Make sure that you don’t eat anything that is not thoroughly cooked. A well cooked meal is also a well sterilized meal. Cooking kills bacteria, and hot food is safe from most germs that cause bowel infections. Raw food can also be more difficult to digest, and may worsen your appetite. Avoid take-away food – it may not be freshly cooked.

7. Ensure cleanliness to prevent infections

Believe it or not, but the world is swarming with bacteria. Under normal circumstances, your body can tackle almost any germ. But when your defenses are down, you are at a high risk of infection. Make sure that you follow some simple precautions:

  • Wash your hands before cooking and eating.
  • Make sure that your utensils and knives are cleaned before cooking.
  • Keep raw food away from cooked food.
  • Refrigerate food whenever possible; don’t keep it lying out in the open.

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