Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment that uses one or more drugs to combat cancer cells in your body.
Its symptoms, which may include dry mouth, taste changes, nausea, and fatigue, can make eating seem like a chore.
However, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet during cancer treatment to keep your body functioning optimally. Foods that are mild in flavor, easy on your stomach, and nutrient-dense are some of the best options (
Here are 10 foods to eat during chemotherapy.
Oatmeal provides numerous nutrients that can help your body during chemo.
It boasts ample amounts of carbs, protein, and antioxidants, as well as more healthy fats than most grains. It also helps regulate your bowels because of its beta glucan, a type of soluble fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut (2,
Oatmeal’s neutral flavor and creamy texture are especially advantageous if you’re experiencing common chemo side effects like dry mouth or mouth sores.
What’s more, you can take overnight oats to your chemo appointments. To make this dish, simply soak oats in a milk of your choice and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you can top it with berries, honey, or nuts.
If you’re taking oatmeal on the go, eat it within 2 hours to avoid foodborne illnesses — though you can minimize this risk by keeping it in a cooler (4).
Fruit, maple syrup, and nuts are common add-ins, though you can also make savory oatmeal with avocado or eggs. Eat it plain or with a dash of salt if you’re experiencing nausea or mouth sores.
Oatmeal provides numerous nutrients and is palatable if you’re experiencing chemo symptoms like dry mouth, mouth sores, and nausea. Its fiber can also help keep your bowel movements regular.
If your appetite is lacking, avocados can pack necessary calories and nutrients into your diet.
This creamy, green fruit is particularly high in healthy monounsaturated fat, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. It’s also loaded with fiber, with 3.5 ounces (100 grams) packing 27% of the Daily Value (DV) (5,
Its fiber bulks up your stool and feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut (
Because they’re filling, versatile, and mild, avocados are a great option if you’re experiencing dry mouth, constipation, mouth sores, or weight loss.
You can smash and spread them on toast or slice them to top a bowl of grains, beans, or soup.
Avocados are a nutritional powerhouse. With plenty of fat and fiber, they can keep you full and provide needed calories when your appetite is low.
Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
While fat provides your body with energy, protein helps maintain and build muscle mass, which is especially important during chemotherapy.
You can hard-boil eggs for a portable snack or scramble them for a scrumptious meal. Make sure that they’re thoroughly cooked, with thickened yolks and hardened whites, to prevent food poisoning.
Their soft, soothing texture makes eggs ideal if you’re experiencing mouth sores.
Eggs may ease fatigue due to their combination of protein and fats. Additionally, they’re easy to eat if you have mouth sores.
Taste changes are normal during chemotherapy — and water is commonly said to taste different.
In these instances, broth is a great alternative to keep you hydrated. It’s made by simmering water with vegetables, herbs, and — if desired — meat or poultry, plus bones.
During this process, electrolytes are released into the fluid. These charged particles, which include nutrients like sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium, help keep your body functioning properly (
Sipping on broth can be helpful if you’re losing electrolytes through vomit, sweat, or diarrhea (11).
If you have the appetite for it, you can add chicken, tofu, or veggies into your broth. Puréeing this mixture will help it go down easier if you have mouth sores.
For added nutrients, especially when you’re experiencing dry mouth or low appetite, you can heap in a spoonful of flavorless protein powder, such as collagen powder.
However, keep your broth clear and simple if you’re experiencing nausea or vomiting — and sip slowly. Broth is great in these instances, as its lack of fiber makes it easier to digest (11).
Clear broth helps you stay hydrated and replenished, especially if water starts tasting differently during your chemo. You can add veggies or protein if you’re feeling able to handle solid food.
During chemotherapy, you may find yourself in and out of a lot of appointments — so snacks can come in handy.
Not only are nuts like almonds and cashews easy to take on the go, but they also boast ample amounts of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals (12).
These minerals form superoxide dismutases, some of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help fight free radicals that damage your cells (
You can also add nuts to oatmeal or other dishes.
However, they may not be easy to eat if you’re experiencing mouth sores. In these instances, choose nut butters instead.
Almonds boast an impressive number of nutrients, including manganese and copper, and serve as an ideal snack.
Like nuts, pumpkin seeds are great for snacking on between your appointments.
What’s more, they deliver nearly 3 grams of iron per 1/3 cup (33 grams), or about 15% of the DV (14).
However, some treatments, such as blood transfusions, may increase your risk of iron overload, or excess iron in your body. If you develop this condition, you’ll want to watch your intake of pumpkin seeds and other high-iron foods (14,
For a sweet-and-salty twist, make your own trail mix by combining pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and other dried fruits, seeds, and nuts.
Pumpkin seeds are great on-the-go snacks and are especially rich in healthy fats and iron. Yet, if you have iron overload, you may want to limit your intake.
What’s more, it contains sulforaphane, a plant compound thought to improve brain health.
Research has shown that sulforaphane can positively impact brain health by reducing inflammation and protecting cells from damage, which is especially important when undergoing chemotherapy (
Steam or roast these veggies with olive oil and a dash of salt. If you’re experiencing taste changes, try a squeeze of lemon as long as you don’t have mouth sores or nausea.
Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are high in nutrients your body needs. In particular, broccoli contains sulforaphane, a plant compound that may help protect brain health.
Homemade smoothies are a great option if you’re having a hard time chewing solid food or getting enough nutrients in your diet.
They’re highly customizable, allowing you to choose the best ingredients for your symptoms or taste changes.
Here’s a basic smoothie formula:
- 1–2 cups (240–475 ml) of liquid
- 1.5–3 cups (225–450 grams) of veggies and/or fruit
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of protein
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of fat
For instance, combine fresh or frozen fruit with milk or kefir, then toss in a handful or two of washed spinach leaves. Dump in a spoonful of flax seeds for fat and peanut butter for protein.
You can also squeeze in a bit of lemon or lime to brighten up the flavors.
Smoothies are a great option for times when eating is difficult. Plus, they’re an ideal way to add fruit and veggies to your diet.
If you’re experiencing diarrhea or nausea, white bread or crackers are a good choice because they’re typically easy to digest. Whole-grain versions, which supply added nutrients, are ideal for when your stomach is not upset.
Eat them plain or top with nut butter, smashed avocado, or ricotta cheese if you desire more flavor and nutrients.
White bread and crackers can be helpful if diarrhea or nausea set in. Saltines can help restore sodium lost to diarrhea or vomiting.
If you enjoy seafood, it’s a good idea to eat two servings of fish per week when you’re in chemotherapy. That’s because it provides protein and omega-3 fatty acids (
Omega-3s are important fats that you must get through your diet. They support brain health and boast anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, eating plenty of protein and healthy fat-rich foods like fish can help you avoid unhealthy weight loss during treatment (
Salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and sardines are particularly high in these fats.
What’s more fattier fish like salmon and herring are a rich source of vitamin D, which is necessary for proper bone and immune health. In fact, a small salmon filet (170 grams) provides 113% of the DV (30,
Steam, pan-fry, or roast your fish with a squeeze of lemon. Use a meat thermometer to be sure it reaches an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) — or 165°F (74°C) if you’re reheating it (
Fish can be a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Plus, eating protein and fat-rich foods like fish high in omega-3s can help prevent unwanted weight loss, and vitamin D is important for immunity. Aim to eat two servings per week.
Chemotherapy can trigger a host of side effects, including dry mouth, taste changes, fatigue, mouth sores, and nausea. These can make eating difficult or unappealing.
Knowing what foods to eat, such as bland foods for mouth sores and wet or creamy textures for dry mouth, may help nourish your body while navigating cancer treatment.
It’s advantageous to pack nutritious, travel-friendly foods to your appointments. Practicing food safety is also important to lower your risk of food poisoning.
However, if you experience difficulty chewing or swallowing during your treatment, talk to your healthcare provider.