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Foods to Ease 6 Common Chemo Side Effects

August 23, 2021

When you start chemotherapy, one of the first things you’ll learn is how important it is to eat healthy and keep a balanced diet. Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with side effects that include dry mouth, nausea, fatigue and changes in taste. There are, however, some food strategies you can use to restore that lost appetite. 

Some of the healthiest foods can both ease your discomfort and fuel your body as you deal with treatment and symptoms. Here are some of the most common chemotherapy side effects along with meal-planning tips that can help. 

Poor Appetite

Small, frequent meals can help keep your digestive tract moving. Feelings of hunger can also trigger nausea, so try eating small meals two to three hours apart. Some options include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as citrus and melons

  • All-natural fruit popsicles

  • Greek yogurt

  • Chilled, ready-to-drink protein shakes

  • Light-but-filling nuts, granola bars or trail mix

  • Refreshing fresh juices 

Other options include starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes, and high-protein foods such as chicken, turkey and eggs.

Constipation

A high-fiber diet and increased fluid intake can help with this. Staying active with daily walks also is helpful. Some fiber-rich foods include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Berries

  • Bell peppers

  • Melon

  • Peaches

  • Cherries

  • Plums

  • Tomatoes

  •  Zucchini

  • Mango 

Whole grain foods such as quinoa and legumes like beans and lentils are a great way to incorporate a high-fiber food into fresh salads and grain bowls.

Diarrhea

A bland, low-fiber diet can be helpful, including foods that bulk up your stool. Avoid fried or greasy foods, dairy products, spicy and heavily seasoned foods. Lastly, drink plenty of water. Some good options to relieve diarrhea include: 

  • Fresh or frozen bananas

  • Applesauce

  • Chilled electrolyte-based sports drinks 

You might also try toast or rice to improve your stool.

Mouth Sores

Avoid sharp, crunchy, acidic, salty or spicy foods as they can cause more discomfort — not to mention acid reflux, another common chemo side effect. Try drinking chilled — not cold — fluids with a straw. Also, rinsing your mouth with baking soda, salt and water can ease pain. Some food options include:

  • Chilled soups like gazpacho

  • Cottage cheese

  • Fresh fruit

Dry Mouth

Sipping water and other fluids regularly can help ease this symptom. Some hydrating  options include:

  • Gelatin

  • Popsicles

  • Watermelon

  • Grapes

  • Honeydew

  • Ice chips

Nausea

Foods such as toast, dry cereal and crackers are easier to stomach, and it’s important to drink plenty of water. Some food options include:

  • Iced peppermint or ginger teas

  • Coconut water

  • Melon

  • Smoothies made with bananas  

Keep In Touch with Your Doctor 

Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian if you have any diet-related questions during your treatment journey. They can advise you about food options for your specific symptoms. If you experience any serious side effects such as struggling to chew or swallow, dark urine (a sign of dehydration) and extreme weight loss, call your doctor immediately.

 

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