How to Manage Chemotherapy Symptoms Through Food | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Eating well during chemotherapy treatment can be a challenge. Chemotherapy can affect both appetite and flavor preference. Foods may start to taste strange or take on a metallic taste. In addition, there are many other symptoms that may affect your ability to keep yourself well-nourished. But don’t despair! Here are ways to keep your body healthy and your immune system supported during treatment. For more information, recipes, and tips, and to watch more videos on Eating Well During Cancer, visit
I’m Stacy Kennedy, a nutrition specialist for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Welcome to eating well during cancer. Today, I’d like to talk with you about how to help manage symptoms associated with treatment, specifically with chemotherapy. During chemotherapy treatment, it’s very common for patients to not really feel like eating, or for appetite to be low, or the taste of food to be off. In addition there are often many other symptoms that can impact your overall wellness and ability to keep yourself well-nourished through a healthy diet. Things like fatigue are very common, bowel changes, like constipation or diarrhea, mouth sores, and nausea.
There are so many tips and tricks, and easy, simple ways that you can go about keeping your body healthy, your immune system supported during your treatment, even in the face of all of these symptoms. When it comes to taste changes, if food doesn’t taste good, it’s very hard for it be desirable to eat. One of the ways to help make food taste better is to think about some different flavors. Often times tart, or more sour flavors, things like a pomegranate, ginger, lemon, apples—those can help manage some of that off, or undetectable taste. Now, if you’re experiencing mouth sores, tart flavors can sometimes burn, so you would want to consider something a little more soothing. Think of the texture and flavor, say, of a baked sweet potato.
When it comes to a lot of symptoms that I described, there are some overarching, or common, themes that can really help to manage all of these symptoms. For example: To stay well hydrated. If water doesn’t taste good, consider flavoring your water naturally. Not only will you stay hydrated, you’ll get a boost in immune-supporting phytonutrients. One great tip for nausea is to make a tea using ginger and lemons. Ginger and lemon have both been shown in research to have some anti-nausea properties, and they’re in that flavor profile, which can be really, really helpful. In addition to that, having small, frequent meals and drinking your fluids in smaller amounts throughout the day can really make a big difference. Oftentimes, seeing a large plate of food will really decrease a person’s appetite during chemotherapy. So using a smaller plate, making things colorful and light, can really make a big, big difference.
When it comes to eating throughout the day, including a healthy source of protein is also a good way to help stave off nausea, and also to reduce some fatigue. When we think about keeping our bowels healthy, eating that plant-based diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, can really make a big difference, when it comes to constipation. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, some fruits and vegetables may be harder to digest. There are many ways to go about helping this, while still staying on your healthy diet. That would include sometimes making a smoothie, or fresh juice. For many more recipes and tips and tricks for managing your symptoms in a healthy, natural way, visit our website, or download our free app.