Food for Life: Nutrition and the Cancer Patient

Like on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Google+
Share on LinkedIn
Pin to Pinterest
Share on StumbleUpon

One of the challenges cancer patients have is finding appealing and nutritious foods that taste good and don’t interfere with their treatment or assist in accelerating the spread of the disease.  An unwelcome side effect of both cancer and many of the treatments is loss of appetite.  Having no desire to eat eventually leads to cachexia, a  loss of weight and muscle mass.  So in order to fight the cancer and maintain enough strength for the sometimes grueling treatments, patients need to consume as many nutritious calories as possible.

Many cancers are thought to thrive on sugars and fats, so a healthy diet for cancer patients generally includes the following:

  • A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Selected dairy-based proteins
  • Limited amounts of lean meat, chicken and fish
  • Very small amounts of fat, sugar, salt and alcohol.

Cancer patients may find eating to be just as challenging as fighting the disease, since frequent nausea often makes food unappealing.   At times, they may have difficulty chewing or swallowing.  And while high fiber foods are usually considered desirable for most diets, cancer patients may have to cut back on fiber.  Some cancer patients, such as those suffering from pancreatic cancer, may not be able to eat more than a few bites a day.  In cases like that, physicians and nutritionists may suggest that the patient eat whatever he or she likes and can keep down – even if it against all of the normal cancer diet rules.  In many situations, it is trial and error finding what food can be tolerated by the beleaguered body.

The Natural Cancer Institute has issued general recommendations as to what foods work best for cancer patients.  If you or someone you love is undergoing treatment for cancer, use this as a guide to select nourishing foods.  However, always check with the physician in charge, since some foods may be contraindicated by prescribed medications or treatment.

Foods Easy on the Stomach


  • Clear broth (such as chicken, vegetable, or beef)
  • All soups except those made with foods that cause gas, such as dried beans and peas, broccoli, or cabbage (strain or puree, if needed).


  • Clear carbonated drinks that have lost their fizz
  • Cranberry or grape juice
  • Fruit-flavored drinks
  • Fruit punch
  • Milk
  • Sports drinks
  • Tea
  • Vegetable juices
  • Water

Main meals and other food

  • Avocado
  • Beef (tender cuts)
  • Hard, mild cheeses
  • Cheese, soft or semi-soft (such as cottage cheese or cream cheese)
  • Chicken or turkey (broiled or baked without skin)
  • Eggs
  • Fish (poached or broiled)
  • Noodles
  • Pasta or rice (plain)
  • Peanut butter, creamy (and other nut butters)
  • Potatoes, without skins (boiled or baked)
  • Pretzels
  • Refined cold cereals (such as corn flakes, Rice Krispies®, RiceChex®, and Corn Chex®)
  • Refined hot cereals (such as Cream of Wheat®)
  • Saltine crackers
  • Tortillas (white flour)
  • Vegetables (tender, well-cooked)
  • White bread
  • White toast

Desserts and snacks

  • Angel food cake
  • Bananas
  • Canned fruit, such as applesauce, peaches, and pears
  • Custard
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Gelatin
  • Ice cream
  • Ice milk
  • Lemon drop candy
  • Popsicles
  • Pudding
  • Sherbet
  • Sorbet
  • Yogurt (plain or vanilla)

Meal replacements and supplements

  • Instant breakfast drinks (such as Carnation® Instant Breakfast®)
  • Liquid meal replacements (such as Ensure®)

Low-Fiber Foods – good if you are experiencing diarrhea

Main meals and other foods

  • Chicken or turkey (skinless and baked, broiled, or grilled)
  • Cooked refined cereals (such as Cream of Rice®, instant oatmeal, and grits)
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Noodles
  • Potatoes, without skins (boiled or baked)
  • White bread
  • White rice

Fruits and vegetables

  • Carrots (cooked)
  • Canned fruit (such as peaches, pears, and applesauce)
  • Fruit juice
  • Mushrooms
  • String beans (cooked)
  • Vegetable juice


  • Angel food cake
  • Animal crackers
  • Custard
  • Gelatin
  • Ginger snaps
  • Graham crackers
  • Saltine crackers
  • Sherbet
  • Sorbet
  • Vanilla wafers
  • Yogurt (plain or vanilla)

High Fiber Food – good if you are experiencing constipation

Main meals and other foods

  • Bran muffins
  • Bran or whole-grain cereals
  • Cooked dried or canned peas and beans (such as lentils or pinto, black, red, or kidney beans)
  • Peanut butter (and other nut butters)
  • Soups with vegetables and beans (such as lentil and split pea)
  • Whole-grain cereals (such as oatmeal and shredded wheat)
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-wheat pasta

Fruits and vegetables

  • Apples
  • Berries (such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Dried fruit (such as apricots, dates, prunes, and raisins)
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard greens)
  • Peas
  • Potatoes with skins
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams


  • Bran snack bars
  • Granola
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds (such as pumpkin or sunflower)
  • Trail mix

Foods that are easy to swallow

Westville Restaurant NYCMain meals and other foods

  • Baby food
  • Casseroles
  • Chicken salad
  • Cooked refined cereals (such as Cream of Wheat®, Cream of Rice®, instant oatmeal, and grits)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs (soft boiled or scrambled)
  • Egg salad
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Peanut butter, creamy
  • Pureed cooked foods
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Tuna salad
  • Custard

Desserts and Snacks

  • Flan
  • Fruit (pureed or baby food)
  • Gelatin
  • Ice cream
  • Milkshakes
  • Puddings
  • Sherbet
  • Smoothies
  • Soft fruits (such as bananas or applesauce)
  • Sorbet
  • Yogurt (plain or vanilla)

Meal replacements and supplements

  • Instant breakfast drinks (such as Carnation® Instant Breakfast®)
  • Liquid meal replacements (such as Ensure®)

Ways to Add Calories


  • Use whole milk instead of low-fat
  • Put on hot or cold cereal
  • Pour on chicken and fish while baking
  • Mix in hamburgers, meatloaf, and croquettes
  • Make hot chocolate with milk


  • Melt on top of casseroles, potatoes, and vegetables
  • Add to omelets
  • Add to sandwiches


  • Use in cookie, muffin, and bread batters
  • Sprinkle on:
    • Vegetables
    • Yogurt
    • Ice cream
    • Pudding
    • Custard
    • Fruit
  • Layer with fruits and bake
  • Mix with dried fruits and nuts for a snack
  • Use in pudding recipes instead of bread or rice

RaisinsDried fruits (raisins, prunes, apricots, dates, figs)

  • Plump them in warm water, and eat for breakfast, dessert, or snack
  • Add to:
    • Muffins
    • Cookies
    • Breads
    • Cakes
    • Rice and grain dishes
    • Cereals
    • Puddings
    • Stuffing
    • Cooked vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, and acorn or butternut squash)
  • Bake in pies and turnovers
  • Combine with nuts or granola for snacks


  • Add chopped hard-boiled eggs to salads, salad dressings, vegetables, casseroles, and creamed meats
  • Make a rich custard with eggs, milk, and sugar
  • Add extra hard-boiled yolks to deviled egg filling and sandwich spread
  • Beat eggs into mashed potatoes, pureed vegetables, and sauces. (Make sure to keep cooking these dishes after adding the eggs because raw eggs may contain harmful bacteria.)
  • Add extra eggs or egg whites to:
    • Custards
    • Puddings
    • Quiches
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Omelets
    • Pancake or French toast batter

Food is one of life’s ultimate pleasures especially with discount coupons to lessen the price of the food, but with cancer patients, it can be a love-hate relationship.  Meal planning will be a lot easier if patients and caregivers consult with nutritional experts to find out which foods are best for the patient, and which foods the patient will actually enjoy eating.

Source:  National Cancer Institute

Like on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Google+
Share on LinkedIn
Pin to Pinterest
Share on StumbleUpon





Powered by Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply