Nutritional advice for cancer patients

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is especially important for someone who has cancer because the illness and cancer treatments can affect your appetite, the way your body tolerates certain foods and uses nutrients. Apart from eating healthy, eating well is equally important. Eating well and this means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs to fight cancer. [1] Ensuring your body receives all the nutrients it needs during cancer treatment may help you: 

  • Feel better.
  • Keep up your strength and energy. 
  • Maintain your weight.
  • Better tolerate treatment-related side effects. 
  • Lower your risk of infection.

How to eat Well?

To maintain healthy and balanced diet, try to eat a variety of foods from each of the four main food groups every day which are:


It’s your body’s major source of energy. It is essential for fuelling your body for physical activity as well as promoting proper organ function. Good sources of carbohydrates are potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. Where possible, choose wholegrains. It takes longer to digest, therefore keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Instead of having white rice, choose brown rice. Instead of white bread, choose whole-wheat bread. 

Fruits & Vegetables 

They are a good source of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day. 


This is an essential building block for growth, repairing body tissue and keeping your immune system healthy. It is vital to load up on protein after surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy to help heal tissues and fight infection. Good sources of protein are meat, eggs and fish. Aim for at least two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily or high in Omega 3 fats, such as salmon or mackerel. 


Dairy products such as milk and cheese are high in calcium which helps promote strong bones. Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options where possible. 

The nutrient needs of each cancer patient vary from person to person. Consult your cancer care team on how to identify your nutrient needs and plan how to achieve your dietary goals. 

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How Your Cancer Treatment Can Affect Your Nutrition and Appetite 

    Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy can have a range of side-effects, some of which may affect what you eat and drink. [2] Due to these side-effects, your routine may be disrupted which may in turn affect your eating pattern. Any added stress or anxiety you may be feeling may also affect your appetite, causing you to eat more or less than normal. As eating well is an essential part of healing and recovery, it is important to ensure you do not skip meals or neglect your diet even if you don’t feel like eating.

    Here’s how you can maintain a healthy eating pattern which may have been affected by cancer treatment side-effects:

    Loss of appetite

    Maintain a consistent and healthy food intake even when you have no appetite by eating smaller portions more often, instead of a large meal. Try eating five to six small meals or snacks each day instead of three large meals. If you can’t palate solid food, try a liquid diet such as juices, soups, smoothies and milkshakes. If you are physically able, do some light exercise to increase your appetite before meal times.

    Sudden increase of appetite

    Certain drugs given alongside chemotherapy, such as steroids, can stimulate your appetite. If you’re concerned about weight gain, choose low-fat foods and drinks. Avoid sugary drinks and foods with high sugar content. Consume more fresh fruit and vegetables. 

    Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (being sick)

    Some people may experience nausea and vomiting during and after chemotherapy. Anti-sickness drugs can help with the nausea. Take herbal teas such as mint and ginger which can help settle the stomach. Eat smaller portions and often instead of a large meal

    Taste changes

    You may find that your taste buds change during chemotherapy, making foods taste bland and different. You may prefer to eat more strongly flavoured foods. Experiment with a variety of foods to discover what you may like best. You may also find that you prefer some foods that you never enjoyed before. Some types of therapy may also cause you to have a metal taste in your mouth. Using plastic cutlery and cooking with glass or ceramic pots and pans can help reduce the metal taste.

    Sore mouth 

    A common side-effect of chemotherapy is a sore mouth. Choose soft or liquid foods which required less chewing such as stews, soups, and smoothies. Avoid crunchy, salty, very spicy, acidic and hot foods which may further aggravate your mouth sores. Soothe your mouth and gums with ice-cubes and sugar-free ice lollies. You can also try drinking sugar-free fizzy drinks to help freshen your mouth.


    Cancer treatment side-affects can cause you to eat and drink less than usual. Coupled with being less active and taking certain medication may cause you to be constipated. Consuming high-fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables as well as drinking plenty of water can help with the constipation. 

    When it comes to eating healthy, the most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t mean you can’t have the foods or drinks you normally enjoy which may be considered less healthy, such as foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. You can of course enjoy them from time to time. It’s just about finding the right balance. 


    1) Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment 

    2) Diet during breast cancer treatment

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