Expert Q&A

Chemotherapy: Foods to Eat during Treatment

I am starting chemotherapy. Are there any dietary guidelines I should follow?

Your immune system is affected when you receive chemotherapy treatments, so the most important thing is to eat a varied and balanced diet comprised of foods that will help you recover quickly. Here are some simple guidelines to follow:

  • Try to eat protein at each meal. Protein-rich foods such as lean meats, low fat dairy, beans, legumes, eggs, and nuts are important.

  • Fruits and vegetables, high in antioxidants, will help your immune system. 5 servings of fruits or vegetables per day is recommended. Remember, the more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you.
  • Whole grain foods such as breads, cereals, rice, and pasta are also important. These foods are rich in carbohydrates and provide energy for the body. Aim for at least 6 servings of grain foods.

Properly hydrate with at least 8 cups of water to flush the drugs through the body. Since nausea is often an issue for cancer patients, try to eat whatever is appealing to you. If you are nauseous, aim for light carbohydrate-rich foods and eat more frequently.

Talk to your doctor about nutrition and any dietary restrictions. If your white blood counts are low, then limiting fresh fruits and vegetables and practicing good food safety is warranted.

Dena McDowell, MS, RD
Contributing Expert

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