When you have cancer, eating can be a challenge. Adjusting your diet can help your body fight the disease.

Nutrition is important at any time of your life. When you are undergoing cancer treatment, eating well and maintaining a healthy weight become more critical and difficult. You need your strength to fight the disease. But the symptoms and side effects of treatment—nausea, pain and fatigue—can wear you down. You may lose weight and not receive essential nutrients. Some cancer therapies can even lead to undesirable weight gain, which can have negative consequences on your health.

Cancer can increase your body’s metabolism. You might need more protein and calories for greater energy, to resist infection, improve healing and recover faster. Your body also needs fluids to prevent dehydration.

Try to get enough sleep and consider trying these healthy foods for cancer patients.

How to Keep Your Weight Up

  • Eat something every two to three hours.
  • If you can’t tolerate large meals, try smaller, high-calorie meals and snacks.
  • Every time you eat, add additional healthy fats to the prepared meal or snack such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters. Use whole-fat dairy products. Try mixing granola into whole-fat yogurt or milk, or add walnuts to oatmeal made with whole milk, not water.

If you can’t tolerate large meals, try smaller, high-calorie meals and snacks.

  • Drink your food. Drinks can be easier to tolerate. Good choices are high-protein smoothies, milkshakes or nutrition supplement drinks.
  • Be careful of consumption of low-calorie or low-protein liquids like water, juice or sports drinks that trick your stomach into feeling full. Save those drinks until after you eat a healthy meal.

How to Avoid Unwanted Weight Gain

  • Plan each day’s meals to avoid impulse eating. Eat healthy snacks.
  • Choose a diet high in fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, moderate in whole grains and low-fat dairy, and low in saturated fats and processed, high-calorie foods.
  • Focus on increasing the quality of the foods in your diet. Keep tempting foods that lack nutrition out of the house.
  • Check food labels to determine serving size – you might be surprised!
  • Drink at least 64 fluid ounces a day.
  • Check with your doctor about staying active. Take days off from exercise when necessary to regain strength.
Carol Sullivan
Carol Sullivan MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a senior clinical nutritionist at the Mass General Cancer Center, has helped patients adjust and manage their diet so they can feel their best, even when they are facing illnesses and chronic conditions.  She has advised patients who have cancer, are undergoing transplants or dialysis and children with diabetes.

To make a donation to support cancer care, contact us.