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Incorporate healthy foods into your diet.

Nutrition plays a significant role during cancer treatment. Eating the right kinds of foods can help you:

  • feel better
  • keep up your strength
  • tolerate side-effects
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • improve energy

The “right kinds of foods” fall under the category of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. This means you want to avoid calorically-dense foods, such as processed/junk food that fills you up yet lacks the nutrients you need.

Our culinary experts at the McConnell Heart Health Center have created some nutritious dishes for you to try. Click on any of the following links to download the healthy recipe.

What changes should you make to the cupboard before treatment starts? And what if you get into treatment and can’t eat the right foods? This may feel like one more thing you have to figure out when you’re already overwhelmed. Here’s helpful information.

Right Foods and Your Diet

Below are tips from an OhioHealth Registered Dietitian at the OhioHealth Bing Cancer Center to help you incorporate healthy foods into your diet while going through cancer treatment:

  • Instead of going through a fast-food drive-thru, stop at the grocery and go through the salad bar. It’s not quite as convenient, but it gives you some options, and you can pick and choose healthy foods from the array of choices.
  • Don’t have the energy to go through the grocery salad bar? Enlist a friend to go for you and communicate over a cell phone the food selections.
  • Stock up on healthy convenience meals, such as frozen vegetables in a box you can heat in the microwave.
  • Pre-plan for the times you’re going through treatment – cook several healthy meals at one time, freeze them and keep a list on your fridge so you don’t forget the gold mine ready in your freezer.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand, such as applesauce, bananas and granola bars.
  • Need recipes? Visit the American Institute of Cancer Research.
  • Need vegetarian ideas? Visit the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine website for its food resources regarding a plant-based diet.
  • Get the immune-boosting power of colorful foods into your diet by following the PCRM Nutrition Rainbow. Assign a color to each day of the week – such as red on Mondays (tomatoes and tomato products); orange on Tuesdays (carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos) and so forth.
  • Finally, consider eating five to six small meals a day instead of three big meals. It’s easier on the stomach and helps get a variety those nutrient-rich foods into your diet.

Helpful tips for eating challenges during cancer treatment

Every cancer patient reacts differently to treatment. Some experience side effects, some don’t. Similarly, some experience eating problems, some don’t. 

No one can know for sure ahead of time if they’re going to experience eating problems during cancer treatment, which is why it’s important to be prepared.

Below are helpful tips for two common eating challenges that occur during cancer treatment:

Mouth Sores

If your cancer treatment is causing small ulcers in the mouth and tender gums, here are some ways to manage the problem and get relief:

  • Suck on ice chips. Freeze fruit juice in an ice cube tray and then crush the cubes into chips.
  • Cook your fruits and vegetables to soften them and make them easier to chew.
  • Use a straw to help direct the liquid away from the sore parts of your mouth.
  • Puree foods in a blender or food processor.
  • Eat food that is either cold or at room temperature.


If you’re suffering from nausea as a side effect of your cancer treatment, here are some tips to help you control it:

  • Eat five to six small meals a day. Spreading food throughout the day keeps the stomach from filling up too much, too fast, creating a sense of pressure and fullness.
  • Avoid foods with a lot of fat in them. It takes a little longer to digest high-fat foods.
  • Avoid any kind of a food that you’re noticing has a very strong odor. Even stay out of the kitchen, if you can, so you’re not there with the food — you may need to have someone else cook your food. If that’s not possible, when cooking on the stove, take the pan lid and open it away from you so the smell goes to the rear and not up in your face
  • Clean your pallet between meals. Do this with pureed fruits or fruit juice or peppermint-y candies.
  • Drink in between meals. Drinking with meals can fill you up and give a full, bloated feeling that could contribute to the nausea.
  • Stay well-hydrated. If you’re having episodes of vomiting, it’s important to replace the liquid you’re losing and to do so by sipping water throughout the day. Figure out a system for yourself, such as drink eight ounces every hour.
  • Brush your teeth between meals. Use a soft toothbrush to brush not only your teeth but also the roof of your mouth and gums. This is to remove any bacteria or food particles that may linger and leave a taste in your mouth.

As always, if you’re having trouble eating food and drinking enough liquid during your cancer treatment, talk to you doctor immediately. Also, share your challenges with your OhioHealth Patient Navigator, who can help you find the resources you need.

Helpful Resources

Following are two helpful resources to keep on hand:

The National Cancer Institute publishes the book Eating Hints: Before, During and After Cancer Treatment that includes descriptions about common types of eating problems and ways to manage them.

The American Cancer Society provides helpful information in Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families.

Meet with a Dietitian 

Meeting one-on-one with an OhioHealth dietitian can be one of the best things you do for yourself — because when you meet with one of our dietitians, she can: 

  • Review your eating habits/routines, and help you make changes so you incorporate the right foods into your diet before, during and after treatment
  • Identify daily goals for calories and protein, and the foods that can help you achieve those goals to stay strong during treatment
  • Problem-solve food challenges, such as appetite loss or nausea, during radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Offer ideas for a variety of foods
  • Provide support and understanding  

Keep in mind medicine used to treat your cancer can do its job even better if you’re nourishing your body with the right foods.

Contact an OhioHealth Dietitian

To meet with an OhioHealth dietitian, talk to your OhioHealth Patient Navigator, or call CancerCall for a referral at (800) 752.9119.