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Health Library

General Nutrition Guidelines During Cancer Treatment

Careful food choices will help support your immune system’s fight against cancer. The foods you choose to eat during active cancer treatment will vary according to any side effects you may be experiencing. Overall, try to make food choices that provide you enough calories (to maintain your weight), protein (to help rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm), nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and fluids (essential for your body’s functioning).

The following suggestions from the National Cancer Institute may be helpful if you have difficulty eating or a loss of appetite even when you are feeling well with cancer:

  • Eat small, frequent meals (every one to two hours).

  • Eat high-protein and high-calorie foods (including snacks).

  • Keep snacks, such as peanut butter crackers, nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit on hand. 

  • Avoid foods low in calories and protein, and avoid empty calories (such as soda).

  • To avoid nausea and improve your appetite, do not drink liquids with your meals.

  • Try to eat when you are feeling the best, no matter what time of day.

  • Use meal substitutes, such as high-calorie, high-protein drinks, when you do not feel like eating.

  • Try to increase your appetite through light exercise or appetite stimulants.

  • Add extra calories and protein to food using foods, such as butter, skim milk powder, honey, or brown sugar.

  • Take your medications with high-calorie fluids.

  • Eat foods at room temperature.

  • Avoid spicy foods or foods with strong odors.

General Nutrition Guidelines During Cancer Treatment - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS, OCN
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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