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Nutrition tips for patients undergoing cancer treatment

Metallic taste. No taste. Decreased appetite. Nausea.

All are side effects some cancer patients experience during chemotherapy and radiation treatment. And all of them make eating unpleasant.

If these side effects last a while, patients may not get the nutrition they need, said Kari Mizgalski, a registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic.

“Nutrition is important to help patients get through treatment and prevent weakness,” she said. “If patients are having trouble eating, they should meet with a registered dietitian to tailor a plan.”

Try these tips if you’re experiencing nausea or loss of appetite.

Eat small, frequent meals

Eat five or six small meals a day instead of a few larger ones that may end up unfinished. Eat more or have a snack if you feel hungry.

Frequent meals fend off hunger, which can worsen nausea, Mizgalski said.

Pass the pudding, skip the spice

Each patient’s tastes will differ, but certain foods typically are easier to stomach than others.

“Cold, soft foods usually sit better,” Mizgalski said. “Pudding, apple sauce and fruit cups in their own juice tend to go over well.”

Crackers, rice and noodles also are safe bets. Hot foods with strong smells, spicy foods and greasy meals are harder to digest and often make nausea worse.

Ginger tea in the recipe below may help relieve nausea.

Try high-calorie, high-protein foods, healthy fats

High-calorie, high-protein foods will help people experiencing nausea and decreased appetite meet their daily calorie needs without having to eat large plates of food.

Peanut butter and full-fat dairy like yogurt, string cheese and cottage cheese are good sources of protein. Eat avocados or add a tablespoon of olive oil to casseroles, vegetables, pasta, or rice, if you need more healthy fats in your diet.

Packaged nutritional shakes are another way to boost calorie count. Mizgalski recommends using them as a supplement instead of a meal replacement.

If you’re feeling up to it, make a smoothie at home using yogurt, whole milk, nonfat dry milk powder and fruit.

Ask about a multivitamin

You may be missing out on nutrients you need if you’re not eating much or can’t tolerate certain food groups.

“Some supplements have vitamins, but not everything you need,” Mizgalski said. “Ask your doctor or registered dietitian if you should take a multivitamin.”

Ginger tea

Soothing Ginger Tea for Nausea Relief

Servings: 1


  • 4 to 6 thin slices of ginger root
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups of water
  • Lemon or lime slices (optional)
  • Honey (optional)


Peel ginger and slice thin.

Heat water and sliced ginger to a boil for at least 10 minutes. For a stronger flavor, add more ginger and boil longer.

Remove from heat and add lemon or lime and honey to taste.

Download & Print Recipe

One response to “Nutrition tips for patients undergoing cancer treatment”

  1. Becky L.

    Do you have a safe product line to recommend? I mean a product that has no cancer causing agents.

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