Food and Chemotherapy

Dietitian at Bupa UK
03 February 2017

Cancer treatment can cause a number of side-effects, it might not be the most obvious one but it can change someone’s appetite and taste. People receiving treatment are often unsure what the best diet is for them as food can be a complex issue, and their loved ones are unsure what they can do to help.  Bupa’s Health Coach – Dietitian, Rachael Eden, shares some advice on what to eat, when to eat and what to do if you suffer from nausea.

Soup

Nutrition

For many people living with cancer, their relationship with food can be difficult; food can quickly go from being enjoyable to frustrating and disappointing.

Staying hydrated and maintaining muscle tissue with enough fluids, calories and nutrients can have a number of benefits. It can reduce treatment delays, boost the immune system and help minimise debilitating side-effects such as fatigue. Treatment can affect a person’s appetite which can make a balanced diet difficult to achieve. Eating nutrient-dense foods, such as avocado and some seeds or nuts, will help keep their strength up.

Top tips

  • Undergoing cancer treatment can make eating big meals difficult, so trying to eat smaller meals packed with food that are high in calories.  
  • Opt for whole milk with added milk powder rather than skimmed milk.
  • Soup can be an easy meal. Boost your energy intake by including meats such as bacon or chicken, add some plain noodles or croutons, and have cheese on toast as a side.
  • Instead of eating plain white bread, choose wholemeal bread with grains and seeds in it to increase the nutritional value.
  • Try adding grains, nuts, sugar and fats into your meals to help boost energy.

Taste

Some people undergoing cancer treatment find that foods can taste too strong or metallic. This is because the spread of chemotherapy drugs during treatment can damage taste receptors and cause taste changes. People can also find that cold or chilled foods may taste better than foods which are warm or hot.

Top Tips

  • Red meats are more prone to tasting metallic, so stick to serving white meat like chicken or turkey.  Try cooking the meat in sweeter-tasting condiments like sweet and sour sauce or even vinegar.
  • Eat with a plastic knife and fork rather than metal cutlery to help reduce the metallic taste.
  • People undergoing treatment often find that plain-tasting foods are easier to stomach. Try adding mashed potato or plain noodles to your meals. For your mash, use whole milk that is boosted with milk powder to increase the calorie intake. For your noodles, try adding some vegetables or white meat for a more substantial meal.

Nausea

Nausea is a common problem for people having treatment. Although it’s tough, it’s important to try to keep to a regular eating pattern, even if it’s just eating a handful of crisps or nuts during the day. Fizzy drinks can also help with the nausea and are high in sugar content, which can temporarily boost energy levels. The smell of food could also cause nausea so try to reduce aromas when cooking or sitting down for a meal.

Top Tip

  • When cooking, use an extractor fan to help eliminate aromas.

Food can be a complex issue for those living with and beyond cancer. A healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of becoming unwell again and helps retain fitness for treatment. It can, however, be very difficult to maintain the right diet – especially when it feels like it’s lost all of the enjoyment. If you want to give your loved one going through cancer treatment food, ask them what they are able to eat and try to make it as enjoyable as possible. After all, food is meant to be a basic pleasure for all of us.

You can read more about cancer on Bupa’s Health Information cancer page, which features free expert advice on a range of topics, including adjusting to life after treatment and tips on coping at home and work with cancer.

Rachael Eden
Dietitian at Bupa UK

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