How to navigate nutrition after a cancer diagnosis

Fruits and veggies

Eating healthy is challenging for most of us. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein is ideal. But if you have cancer and are going through chemotherapy, maintaining a healthy diet — or even eating at all — can become extremely difficult.

Why is diet and nutrition important for cancer patients?

You need to optimize their nutrition and hydration so you are strong enough for treatment. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals. But loss of appetite can start just a day or two after chemotherapy begins.

How can a dietitian help patients going through chemotherapy?

Depending on the cancer and the type of chemotherapy, dietitians are able to pinpoint what side effects a patient is most likely to encounter and the best course of action.

Patients need to optimize their nutrition and hydration so they are strong enough for treatment.

Everyone reacts a little differently to chemotherapy. So, we encourage you to listen to your body and see what works for you.

It’s important to take advantage of the days you feel well. If there are a couple of days after chemotherapy that you aren’t feeling very good that’s understandable, we’ll give you tips and tricks to get through those days.

On good days, do the best you can to have a full meal. For instance, if you are hungry in the morning, enjoy a hearty breakfast. Your appetite may dwindle later in the day.

What can friends and family do to help someone going through chemo?

To prepare for the road ahead, accept help from family, neighbors and friends who offer it. Ask them to prepare food so you can come home after a long day of treatment to a home-cooked meal. Aside from coming to your treatments and appointments, eating and drinking should be your number one job. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself to make sure you get through your treatments. Think about it this way, that’s your job.

What should you eat after chemo therapy?

Some tips for overcoming nausea/vomiting while undergoing cancer treatment include:

  • Eat small, frequent meals (6-8 small meals vs. 3 large meals)
  • Avoid strong smells/odors (stay out of the kitchen when cooking and try to eat more cold/room temp foods – warm foods are more odorous)
  • Eat more bland foods – avoid foods that are very sweet, greasy or fatty
  • Snack on dry, starchy foods throughout the day to help settle your stomach (cheerios, crackers, pretzels, etc).
Supportive oncology team, Christopher Daugherty, MD

Helping You Cope With Cancer

The supportive oncology program offers a range of helpful services for cancer patients and their families, including mental health care, nutrition counseling, social work support and more.

Coleman Foundation Supportive Oncology Care Suite