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Diet to Tackle Side-Effects During Chemo

Food can and should serve as a firm footing for your health during chemo treatment – feeding your body with the fuel and nutrition it needs as it undergoes its biggest challenge yet. But you should really understand, food offers so much more than simply powering your body as it does battle with chemo, because it also helps to alleviate or accommodate some of the many symptoms you may be facing. 

Let's start by listing those rough and tumble side-effects…Chemo side effects are wide and varied - coming in waves often one after another. Here are eight side effects that can be addressed, limited or alleviated with the right diet: 


- Dry mouth

- Mouth sores

- Fatigue

- A weakened immune system

- Muscle loss

- Appetite loss

- Constipation

- Nausea

Gravy or Orange Juice for Dry mouth

Dry mouth can make swallowing a tough task. For this, gravy is your friend - as are sauces and low fat milk. You can also try liquifying your foods as the moisture then spreads evenly throughout. Finally, you may be able to avoid dry mouth in the first place by introducing no-sugar-added sweet drinks (such as lemonade or orange juice) into your daily routine, as they stimulate the mouth, creating saliva in the process.

Xylitol is a natural sugar (diabetic friendly) that stimulates saliva and helps prevents cavities. It comes in the form of Mints, gum and raw.

Mouth Sores

Mouth sores can make eating anything at all seem impossible. If you're suffering from open, painful mouth sores, try pureeing your foods and eating super-soft things such as porridge, custard, soups, rice, and eggs.

Swishing with chamomile tea is also a good option for cleansing.

Ask your Dentist for "MI Paste". It's been shown to soothe and heals the oral tissues.

Lean protein for Fatigue and Muscle Loss

Feeling tired? You bet. Chemo is such an energy sapper. Protein is an essential base not only for your body's energy reserves, but also for holding onto muscle mass. Try lean proteins such as eggs, fish, tofu, and chicken.

Onion and Garlic for a Strengthened Immune System

Consuming onion and garlic any way you can (either raw or cooked) can introduce much needed antioxidants into your diet. They are also both proven to stimulate the immune system and its ability to fight cancer along side chemo*.

Liquids for Constipation

Chemo can leave you painfully blocked up, leaving you feeling just blegh! Constipation should be starved off, first and foremost, with plenty of liquid. Couple this with foods that are packed with insoluble fiber, including whole grain breads or cereals, dried fruits, and dried beans or peas.

Feeling Hungry? No? Overcome Appetite Loss with Eating Little and Eating Often

"Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy, but instead of forcing yourself to eat three big meals, eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day to stay properly nourished and energized. Adding protein supplements and higher-calorie foods to your diet will help you sustain a healthy weight." 

- Reader's Digest

Taking on the Big C with Parsley, Garlic and Broccoli - A Tip from the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research

"Certain plant compounds, which are also found in parsley, garlic and broccoli can make chemo more effective by stopping a mechanism in the body that can sometimes interfere with cancer treatment, according to a recent study by the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research. Researchers hope these foods "could be used to complement conventional treatments to potentially deliver better results for patients." 

- The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research

Ready to Begin? Start Here With This Delicious, Nutritious Meal Plan

"My eating philosophy became a decision to fuel my body with natural unprocessed foods that help me feel healthy, strong and confident."

- Anna Crollman 


This blog on Nutrition Before and After Cancer from Anna Crollman, whizzes you through some quick-fire meal ideas and a three-day starter plan with meals mapped out for breakfast, lunch, dinner and desert. Her suggestions include protein smoothies, multigrain tortillas with hummus, spaghetti squash and raw almonds and berries. Yum yum. 

Cooking Pro Tip: Overcoming Those Strong Smells and Difficulties When Prepping Food

So now that your nutrition is organized and you have a complete list of foods that'll serve as a solid foundation for undergoing chemo. Yet there could well be a problem - you may know what you need to cook, but your nausea is putting a halt on any cooking at all.

"Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of radiation, unfortunately! Choose foods that are easy to digest and help soothe an upset stomach. Oatmeal, yogurt, noodles, gelatin, broth, and boost shakes were all part of my radiation routine!" 

- Jess DeCris

Prepare food in larger batches before each chemo treatment that way cooking smells are kept at a minimum. If you are able, when re-heating food, use the kitchen fan/hood and avoid being in the kitchen.

You can also try tackling nausea with: 

- Queasy Drops

- hard candy, mints

- sea-bands and 

- ginger biscuits or anything ginger like tea, ginger chews, snacks, etc.

Not Medical Advice

This is for info purposes only and does not replace medical advice. Please verify all and any information here or in links provided with your healthcare professional before making your decision to change your diet or habits. What's good for one person may no be for another. You and your medical team know what's best in your situation.

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