Dietitians Dish: Nutrition-related ideas help with side effects of cancer treatment

By Stephanie Markman
Nov. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.

Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-part series.

Cancer treatment can have various side effects. Here are some nutrition-related ideas to help address them.

Loss of appetite: Eat five to six small meals each day and choose caloric beverages to sip, such as milkshakes, whole milk and juice.

Change in taste and smell: Marinate meats to decrease the taste aversion. Try tart or sweet foods. Use plastic utensils and cook in glass pots and pans to avoid any metallic tastes.

Constipation: Consume at least 64 ounces of clear liquids each day, eat high fiber foods (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and move as much as possible. Drinking warm liquids may help, especially heated-up prune or apple juice.

Diarrhea: Drink extra fluids to replace what you lose from diarrhea. Try five to six small meals each day and choose high-sodium and potassium foods to help replace electrolytes, such as bananas, apricots and potatoes. Mainly choose low-fiber foods, such as yogurt, white toast or rice. Avoid greasy or spicy foods, alcohol, sugar-free products and apple juice. Eating foods that are room temperature may help as well.

Dry mouth: Sip on water and choose sweet or tart beverages and foods to encourage saliva production. Gum, hard candy, popsicles, ice chips and moistening foods with gravies, sauces or salad dressings can help. Avoid alcohol.

Nausea: Eat five to six small meals a day and do not skip meals or snacks. Drink slowly and try sipping through a straw or out of a bottle. Dry toast and crackers before getting up from a rest can help reduce nausea by settling the stomach. Avoid strong-smelling foods and wear loose and comfortable clothing.

Sore mouth or throat: Choose easy-to-chew, soft foods that are cold or at room temperature; take small bites and use a straw. Ice chips soothe the mouth and throat. Avoid citrus, spicy or salty foods, raw veggies, sharp or crunchy foods and alcohol.

Vomiting: After an episode of vomiting, begin with small sips of clear liquids. Once that is tolerated, try full liquids (can incorporate milk-based products), and once those foods are tolerated, advance to five to six small meals each day. Try to avoid your favorite foods during this time so that you don't create a food aversion.

Weight gain: This can be a side effect of certain chemo drugs, steroid use or fluid retention. To help maintain or lose weight, focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and avoid high fat foods. Small portions will also help cut calories. Avoid as much salt as possible to decrease fluid retention.

Weight loss: Eat according to a designated time, not according to your hunger. Consume five to six small meals each day and try to use protein-fortified milk when cooking and baking. Increase physical activity as tolerated to encourage an increase in appetite. Focus on heart-healthy, high-fat foods, such as oils, avocado, nuts and nut butters.

Stephanie Markman is a registered and licensed dietitian at DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to



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