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  • Joanna Injore

What do I eat during chemo?- Part 1

There is so much information on what you should and shouldn’t be eating during chemotherapy as well as lots of advice from well-meaning friends or family. So, what should you eat??

During chemotherapy treatment you can experience a range of changes that all can affect your ability to eat your meals as well as you normally do.

Chemo can leave you tired so you lack energy to prepare meals, you may feel ‘off your food’ and have a smaller appetite than usual or you may experience taste changes where your normal foods just don’t taste right anymore. Some people can also experience side-effects like nausea or vomiting, changes in your bowels- diarrhoea or constipation that can add to the difficulty with eating.

What are the basics?

To get the range of nutrients your body needs aim to include the following:

  • Starchy carbohydrates: include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, grains, cereals with your meals

  • Protein: meat, fish, dairy, plant proteins- lentils, beans, pulses, Quorn, tofu or soya

  • Fruits and vegetables: any you enjoy

  • Fats: small amounts found in butter, oil and healthy fats found in avocados, nuts

  • Fluids: aim for at least 2 litres a day- water, herbal teas, tea/coffee are included but watch the quantity)

How do I manage a reduced appetite?

Changes to your appetite can be due to a number of reasons such as the treatment side-effects, low mood or even the cancer itself.

A poor appetite can lead to weight and muscle loss and reduced energy levels. Keeping your weight stable is key to helping you respond to your treatment and recover quicker.

5 top tips to improve your appetite

Tips to improve appetite
  1. Aim for small snacks and meals rather than just 3 large meals. You may find 5-6 small frequent portions are easier to manage

  2. Avoid filling up on drinks before a meal- try smaller drinks throughout the day instead

  3. Boast the energy and protein of your food- go for full fat dairy, add a bit of grated cheese or butter to your food

  4. Go with your taste- try to go for foods you like and feel like eating, even if that is few desserts!

  5. Keep mealtimes relaxed - eat with family or friends and take your time to eat

How can I eat enough if I can only eat small amounts?


Food fortification is adding extra nutrition to your food without changing the amount or volume. This is a great technique to use if you are struggling to eat due to a reduced appetite.

Add full fat milk, cream, butter or cheese

Dairy or non-diary alternatives is really useful here and a very easy way to boast the nutrition of your meals and snacks. You could try adding butter, cheese, cream, full fat milk to your foods such as soups, mash potatoes, pasta, puddings, toast, vegetable etc. This will add extra energy and protein to your food without adding any bulk which is important when you have a reduced appetite.

Add honey, nut butter or jam

Adding honey, nut butters or jam to your cereals, snacks or puddings add some extra calories and also taste so you may enjoy them more!

Add ground nuts to salads, cereals, yoghurt or pudding

It may seem that these are the not in line with a ‘healthy diet’ but if you are struggling to finish your meals this will help fill the gap with the energy/protein you need and prevent weight loss. It is also worth remembering this is only SHORT TERM once you are back to eating your normal meals and weight is stable you can stop adding these extras.

Super fortified milk recipe

If you are using milk in drinks and food you can maximise this by making it ‘fortifed milk’ see the recipe below. Keep this super fortified milk in the fridge use in any drinks, food or puddings throughout the day (keep up to 24 hours)

fortified milk recipe

Supplement drinks

There are a number of supplement drinks that can be prescribed from you doctor or advised by your Dietitian. There are a number of brands and styles, like milkshake styles, juice based drinks, milkshake powders or soups. These can be useful in the short term to help fill the gap when you are struggling to finish your meals. They all taste slightly different so do try a range of them if you are prescribed.

Over the counter supplement drinks

There are some supplement drinks that can be bought from pharmacies and supermarkets such a ‘Complan’. These will contain less energy and protein compared to the prescribed supplements but may be useful to try out. But remember these supplement drinks shouldn’t replace your meals and should be taken only until your normal appetite returns.

If you are struggling, reach out for support- as a specialist cancer dietitian I can advise you on the foods to eat to keep up your energy levels and prevent weight loss. Book your call today

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