Eating Right During Cancer Treatment

Many cancer patients are confused with many kinds of fad diets and food suggestions. Knowing the proper ways to get sufficient nutritional intake to help you through this difficult time is of utmost importance.

Treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery increase your body’s demand for energy and protein. In order to heal and also to maintain your internal defenses against infection, you will need sufficient nutrition. However, these treatments can bring some side effects which can affect your appetite and food intake.

Your body needs a healthy diet to function at its best. This is even more important if you have cancer. Eating well while you are being treated for cancer can help you:

  • Feel better
  • Keep up your strength and energy
  • Keep up your weight and your body’s store of nutrients
  • Tolerate treatment-related side effects
  • Lower your risk of infection
  • Heal and recover faster



Eating well means eating a variety of foods, based on the Malaysian Food Pyramid. This will give you all the nutrients you need to protect your health while fighting cancer.

Here are 9 eating tips for a healthy and nutritious diet.

1.         Variety is the spice of life. Enjoy a variety of foods from the five food groups based on Malaysian Food Pyramid.

2.         Maintain a healthy body weight by balancing calorie intake with physical activity.

3.         Choose healthy carbohydrates and fibre sources, especially whole grains. Based on the Malaysian Food Pyramid, one should take in about 4 – 8 servings of grains and their products everyday, preferably whole grains.

4.         Enjoy a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, at least 5 servings every day.

5.         Choose healthy fat. Enjoy food with healthy fats & limit unhealthy fats in food preparation.

6.         Include sufficient amounts of protein (fish, meat, poultry, egg, legumes and nuts) in your diet.

7.         Eat adequate amounts of milk and dairy products, 1 – 3 servings a day.

8.         Limit sugar and salt in your diet.

9.         Drink 6 – 8 cups of water daily to remain healthy and prevent dehydration.



Cancer treatments can cause side effects that lead to eating problems. It helps to talk to your dietitian if you are not sure what to eat during cancer treatment. Here are some tips on how to cope:

Eating Problems


Changes in smell and taste
  • Avoid strong food smells, which can kill your appetite and make food taste worse when you eat.
  • Maintain oral hygiene.
Poor appetite 
  • Try frequent small meals throughout the day, every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Keep having small snacks in between your meals and include high calories snacks like sandwiches, pudding, shakes, fruit smoothies etc. Always keep snacks ready by bedside.
  • Garnishing your food item and eating a well appealing food also increase your appetite. So make your meals as attractive as possible with garnishes such as spring onion, lemon, parsley etc.
Sore mouth or throat 
  • Eat foods cold or at room temperature. Hot and warm foods can irritate a tender mouth and throat.
  • Choose soft, soothing foods, such as ice cream, milkshakes, soft fruits (bananas and papaya), mashed potatoes, cooked cereals, soft-boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese, custards and puddings. You also can puree cooked foods in the blender to make them smoother and easier to eat.
  • Avoid irritating, acidic foods and juices, such as tomato and citrus (orange and lemon); spicy or salty foods; and rough foods such as dry toast, crackers, chips, nuts, popcorn and raw vegetables.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
Nausea and vomiting 
  • Eat small and light meals throughout the day, instead of one, two, or three large meals.
  • If nausea is a problem, try eating dry foods like cereal, toast, or crackers when you wake up and every few hours during the day.
  • Stay away from strong odor foods. Eat foods cold or at room temperature so you won’t be affected by strong smells.
  • Avoid overly sweet, greasy, salty or spicy food.
Dry mouth 
  • Drink plenty of liquid, 8 to 10 cups a day. Always carry a water bottle with you to sip from often.
  • Moisten dry foods with soup, sauces, gravy, yogurt, butter, margarine or creams.
  • Eat soft and pureed foods.


This article is extracted from the “I Have Breast Cancer. What Next?” booklet produced by Assunta Hospital’s Nursing Department for breast cancer patients. 

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