Take a Bite Out of Treatment Side Effects

Controlling nausea, vomiting and oral side effects during chemo treatments can seem like a constant balancing act. These snacks may help you get through chemo day with less queasiness and discomfort. 

Because chemotherapy medications target cells that quickly replicate, chemo can create a number of side effects in the mouth and digestive system, making eating and getting proper nutrition tricky and sometimes difficult. What you eat just before, during and after your chemo treatments can make a big difference in how you feel. 

What to Eat (and Not Eat) Before, During and After Treatment

Before Treatment

You may feel things are out of your control right now, so anything you can do to make everyday life easier and healthier is a positive step in the right direction. One thing you do have control over is your diet—even if side effects are attempting to dictate the situation.

Eating a small meal beforehand and taking a few snacks with you is the best approach on chemo day. Food makes it easier on your stomach and will help keep your blood sugar levels balanced. The snacks you bring with you will depend largely on the side effects you typically experience during and after treatment. However, there are a number of things you can do to prevent problems, regardless of your side effects. 

  • Focus on low-fat meals with complex carbs and lean protein. A low-fat, high-carb breakfast or lunch will provide balanced nutrition that’s easy on your stomach. Try a few hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit or a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread about an hour or two before treatment.
  • Drink a nutritional supplement beverage. Milkshakes and nutrition supplements such as Ensure are a good option, as they keep you hydrated while providing calories.
  • Take a ginger supplement. Research suggests ginger supplements (daily dose of 0.5g to 1.0g) can help stave off nausea if taken before and after treatment. 
  • Stay away from fatty, fried and spicy foods. These types of foods are difficult to digest and can make diarrhea or nausea worse.
  • Skip alcohol. It’s best not to drink alcohol during treatment, and you’ll want to stay away from alcoholic beverages 24 hours before chemo day. Alcohol can make it more difficult for the liver to metabolize chemo toxins in the bloodstream and can make gastrointestinal side effects worse.
  • Avoid foods you enjoy. This may sound odd, but you don’t want to associate your favorite foods with the treatments or possible side effects like nausea. With that in mind, avoid eating your favorite foods right before treatment. 

During and After Treatment

Side effects like nausea can set in soon after your treatment and can affect you for up to several days. To avoid feeling sick to your stomach, it’s best to avoid eating anything for the first hour after treatment, followed by eating small meals or snacks every two to three hours. However, some chemotherapy sessions are very long, and snacks are needed to avoid painful stomachaches. 

Below are good snack options to eat during and after treatment:

  • Bland foods. Your sense of taste could be altered on the day of your treatment, so plan ahead by packing something bland. Crackers are always a good snack to bring with you.
  • High-fiber foods. To help avoid constipation, eat a snack high in fiber. Some good fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. An excellent snack on chemo day would be whole wheat toast with peanut butter or Fiber One™ snack bars.
  • Opt for foods high in protein and calories. Protein is needed to repair tissue, maintain muscle and support the immune system, so focus on consuming foods high in calories and protein. That way you get vital nutrients in every hard-won bite. One of the best snacks you can bring with you to the chemo treatment is a protein shake. Low fat cottage cheese is also a high-protein snack.
  • Keep snacking on low-fat, high-carb foods. In the first 24 hours after treatment, stick with low-fat, high-card snacks and small meals. Incorporate complex carbohydrates including whole grains, fruits and vegetables;  bananas and applesauce are two good options if you’re craving something sweet. You can also bring fruit juice to sip on.
  • Bring a drink. Staying hydrated is extremely important, especially if you’re experiencing constipation, vomiting, diarrhea or dry mouth. If plain water is unappealing, try adding citrus, cucumber or berries to give it a better flavor. You can also sip on ginger ale or fruit juice to avoid dehydration.
  • Add avocado. Avocados are highly recommended during chemotherapy treatment, because they’re a great source of healthy fats.
  • Enjoy your favorite foods. Once side effects start to pass (sometimes after 24 hours), enjoy your favorite foods if it helps you keep up your appetite.
  • Avoid raw foods. After a chemo treatment, the balance of good and bad bacteria can be off-balance in the gut, leaving you more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses. The easiest way to avoid these problems is to fully cook all of your food.  

When in Doubt, Always Ask Your Doctor

Each chemotherapy agent and person is unique. If you’re having difficulty eating or need help creating a meal plan to meet your nutritional needs, let your healthcare team know. Doctors, nurses, dieticians and nutritionists can give you guidance and direction. They can also let you know which nutritional supplements are safe to take during treatment. 

You may also need to adjust your diet depending on your diagnosis, treatments and side effects. Your doctor will be the best resource for helping you decide what to eat on chemo day and what foods to avoid.