Q: I am undergoing chemotherapy. I have very little appetite, and sometimes just the smell of food makes me nauseous! How can I get proper nutrition at this important time?
A: Hannah Wolf, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with a clinical focus on oncology nutrition, answers:
“Please talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. It is important to maintain good nutritional status during cancer treatment. Side effects from chemotherapy (such as nausea and taste changes) can make eating a challenge. Dietary advice for people undergoing chemotherapy varies depending on the side effects an individual experiences. Here are some tips my patients have found helpful:
During cancer treatment, your body may need extra calories and protein, as well as health-promoting vitamins and minerals.
Incorporate a variety of protein rich foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and milk products—whatever is tolerable. Some people find drinking protein-rich smoothies (made with plain Greek yogurt, milk, and or nut butter) helpful. Canned liquid supplements are an option as well.
- Eat small, protein-rich snacks throughout the day, such as Greek yogurt, half a sandwich, or cheese with whole grain crackers.
- If you are experiencing nausea, try room temperature or cold food. This limits odors that turn some people off. Ginger can be helpful with nausea.
Maintain good hydration. Keep a reusable water bottle by your side.
- Taste changes are not uncommon in people undergoing chemo. If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, use plasticware instead of metal forks and spoons.
- If food tastes bland or off, try adding lemon to food or beverages.
Keep your mouth very clean. Make a mouth rinse by adding one teaspoon baking soda and one teaspoon salt to a quart of water. This can neutralize off tastes, and it is beneficial for those suffering from mucositis (sore, inflamed mouth) as well. Store it in the refrigerator and use as needed.
- Get some movement and exercise. Even though it may feel counter-intuitive when you’re feeling run down, moving can actually get your energy up, and it helps maintain muscle mass.
“You’ve got this!”