Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
An unfortunate truth about cancer is that cancerous cells grow and multiply faster than most of the other cells in the body. That’s why cancer treatments are often aggressive, intended to kill and get ahead of the growth of cancerous cells before they spread to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy is one of the most common and powerful drug treatments for cancer. It’s effective at treating many types of cancer, either alone or in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation. But chemotherapy comes with side effects – including ones that alter the foods you can eat. Over the years, advances in chemotherapy have made the treatment more tolerable and safe, and less harmful to the body’s healthy cells. Yet still, many people still experience side effects when treated with chemotherapy, which may include:
- Appetite and taste changes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Easy bruising or skin bleeding
Chemotherapy is delivered at regular intervals over a specific period of time, determined by a cancer healthcare team. There are two types of chemotherapy: oral and IV. Oral chemotherapy is taken by mouth as a liquid or pill. This method is more convenient, since you can take the drug at home, but it is more expensive. IV chemotherapy is delivered through injection in the arm so the drug goes directly into your bloodstream. This type of treatment is administered at a cancer clinic under the supervision of a nurse. People may experience side effects or no side effects with either type of treatment.
Since people often experience nausea, loss of appetite and tiredness while receiving chemotherapy, weight loss is a common result of the treatment. It’s important for patients to have help with meals so their calorie needs are met. The following foods can help give caregivers some ideas of foods to try:
5 best foods for people taking chemotherapy
View every meal as an opportunity to provide more calories and nutrition to someone who is undergoing chemotherapy. Since patients can become fatigued quickly just during the preparation of a meal, it’s important to keep meals small and calorie-dense. Here are five of the best options to try:
Smoothies are packed with whole-food nutrition and can be a good way to provide an easy-to-consume, refreshing meal to a chemotherapy patient. Include plenty of fresh produce, healthy fats from avocado or nut butter, and a scoop of protein powder. Serve smoothies with a wide reusable plastic straw rather than a metal straw, since metal straws can become too cold or give a metallic aftertaste to people with sensitivities or mouth sores from chemotherapy.
Try one of our 16 Healthy Smoothie Recipes for well-rounded nutrition and a convenient, easy-to-sip meal.
With its soft texture and nutrient density, a warm bowl of oatmeal loaded with desirable toppings can be a good meal option any time of the day. The mix of carbs, protein, antioxidants and beta-glucan fiber from oats, nut butter, dairy or non-dairy milk, and nut or berry toppers can provide a chemotherapy patient with nourishing ingredients in a small number of bites. If chilled oatmeal is preferred, soaked overnight oats can be another option.
Make a bowl of our Spiced Pear Oatmeal for a flavorful, easy and nutrient-packed option.
Eggs are a convenient and nutritious food, providing beneficial protein and important fats for people undergoing chemotherapy. From hard-boiled and scrambled to egg bakes and sautés, there are many ways to prepare and enjoy eggs. For an easy well-rounded meal, pair eggs with greens or other antioxidant-rich veggies, healthy fats like avocado or olives, and a fiber-providing carb, such as whole-grain toast or berries.
One of our favorite ways to have eggs? It’s our Persian-Style Spinach & Herb Sauté with Eggs, which combines protein-rich eggs with good-for-you leafy greens.
4. Nuts and Seeds
These easy-to-snack-on foods may be appealing to people going through chemotherapy and also provide important nutrients, including fats, protein, minerals and antioxidants. Offer shelled cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and more for someone with chemotherapy to snack on at their leisure. Another idea: Pair nuts and seeds with dried fruit or add them to homemade energy bars.
For a nutty, satisfying snack, our Nutty Maple-Cinnamon Bars offer everything you need in a convenient grab-and-go bar recipe.
5. Fancy toast
If someone is experiencing nausea from chemotherapy, whole-grain toast and crackers are an easy-to-digest food that can help calm some queasiness. If it sounds appealing to the patient, top toast or crackers with nut butter and jam, avocado or cheese, eggs and more.
If your stomach can handle it, try one of the recipes from our Upgrade Your Avocado Toast collection. You can customize your toast – or have help doing so – to make a well-rounded meal with all of your favorite toppings.