Common Foods That Can Help Ease Chemo Side Effects

A healthy diet is important for everyone through all walks of life, and it’s particularly vital for those who have cancer. If you or someone you know is going through chemotherapy, maintaining a balanced diet can help keep strength up, and it can even assist in coping with side effects.

We know not everyone’s favorite foods are appealing during chemo, however — but there are a few to keep in mind that patients should consider trying out. Here’s what’s recommended while undergoing treatment, including a type of candy that can help with nausea (No. 9).

1. Mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes with butter and green onions

Mashed potatoes with butter and green onions | iStock.com/mikafotostok

There are numerous side effects of chemotherapy, and soft foods can greatly help some patients. Livestrong.com notes mashed potatoes are good here, particularly for those who have mouth pain or sores from their treatment. Nausea is also common, so bland foods like this one may also be more appealing than bold-flavored choices.

To give your potatoes a protein boost, try adding in some milk or cheese, too.

Next: You can add all sorts of toppings to this food. 

2. Whole-grain toast

Slices of toasted bread

Slices of toasted bread | SasaJo/iStock/Getty Images

It might seem boring, but toast is a great option for chemo patients. Make sure you’re going for whole-grain options, as Reader’s Digest explains this can combat constipation. And if the chemo is giving you diarrhea, dry toast with no toppings can also help here, too.

To make toast a meal, it’s recommended to add nut butter, avocado, or even just butter on top for extra calories and nutritional benefits.

Next: This childhood favorite is perfect for chemo patients. 

3. Buttered noodles

dry Italian pasta

Dried pasta | Anna Kurzaeva/Getty Images

You probably had this meal a lot as a kid, and it’s perfect during chemotherapy, too. Livestrong.com explains any foods with big flavor might trigger nausea in those undergoing treatment, so noodles with butter or olive oil are a great meal option.

Make sure you’re going for whole grains here, too. There are plenty of great whole-grain pasta options to boost the nutrition levels of this simple food.

Next: Who doesn’t love this food?

4. Smoothies and milkshakes

A smoothie being poured into mason jars

A smoothie being poured into mason jars | Creative-Family/iStock/Getty Images

Not only do they taste great, but smoothies and milkshakes are excellent for those undergoing chemotherapy. For those having difficulty consuming solid foods due to mouth sores or pain, these soft drinks can help you get the nutrition you need while not exacerbating any existing issues.

The American Cancer Society recommends adding citrus fruits to your diet for their nutritional value, too, so try adding grapefruit, oranges, or lemons to a smoothie. As for milkshakes, the dairy adds much-needed protein here (and extra calories if you need them!).

Next: This warm, comforting food is a must-have. 

5. Chicken broth

Bone broth made from chicken served in a soup bowl

Bone broth made from chicken served in a soup bowl | Madeleine_Steinbach/Getty Images

Some patients have difficulty tolerating solid foods or the texture of a smoothie. In that case, Livestrong.com recommends eating chicken or vegetable broth to get more food into your diet. And the warmth of broth may also bring comfort to some.

It’s important to note there’s not too much nutritional value or calories in broth, though. If liquids are the only thing you can tolerate in your diet, try drinking fruit juices with added nutrients, or even eating popsicles.

Next: This orange vegetable does wonders. 

6. Carrots

Fresh carrots arranged on a wooden background

Fresh carrots arranged on a wooden background | iStock.com/Nataliia_Pyzhova

This might be the one vegetable you’ll absolutely want to add into your diet. Reader’s Digest says studies have found there’s a compound in carrots that may make chemotherapy more effective. Scientist Arjan Scheepens, Ph.D., said that researchers hoped foods with this compound “could be used to complement conventional treatments” and give even more promising results to patients.

As far as flavor goes, carrots also have a pleasant natural sweetness that isn’t likely to put chemo patients off, either.

Next: You’ll want to add this fruit into your diet. 

7. Bananas

Woman eating a banana while driwing car on highway

Woman eating a banana while driving | AdrianHancu/iStock.com

Not all fruits are as satisfying as bananas, but the high-fiber content helps here. Additionally, Reader’s Digest says bananas are also great for chemo patients experiencing diarrhea.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America also recommends pairing a banana with a food that has a bit of fat and protein for a “mixed” meal. Consider putting your banana on toast with peanut butter for a well-rounded snack.

Next: This is a great source of cheap protein.

8. Eggs

eggs on shelf of refrigerator

Woman picking eggs out of the refrigerator | jarabee123/iStock/Getty Images

If the taste and smell of eggs don’t bother your stomach, then they should be a staple in your diet if you’re going through chemo (or even if you aren’t, for that matter). Eggs are satisfying, inexpensive, and protein-rich, making them a great go-to. Reader’s Digest says lean proteins like eggs, fish, and chicken can help provide you with lasting energy, even when treatment can take a toll.

It’s also important to keep in mind that many folks on chemo report red meat having a metallic taste. Eggs could be a good alternative if that’s the case for you, too.

Next: This candy is both tasty and helpful with nausea. 

9. Ginger candy

Ginger root on wooden board

Ginger root on wooden board | Tom Merton/Getty Images

One of the best natural ways to combat nausea is with ginger. And for those times when you can’t stomach another snack, hard ginger candies or crystallized ginger can be incredibly helpful, says WebMD. The bonus of the sugary ginger is that you’ll get some extra calories as well, which can be good if you’re having trouble keeping food down.

Don’t eat any candied ginger products in the morning, though. Cancer Treatment Centers of America warns eating sugary foods in the morning can suppress the immune system.

Next: This is an excellent tea to have on hand. 

10. Peppermint tea

Cup of tea with lemon slices and garlic

Cup of tea with lemon slices and garlic | White Caty/iStock/Getty Images

It’s important to stay hydrated while on chemo, though water can reportedly take on a strange taste. If that’s the case, then peppermint tea can be helpful in both getting more liquids and controlling nausea, WebMD says. You can also try ginger tea if peppermint isn’t to your liking.

Keep your green tea consumption on the low side, however. While green certainly has its health benefits, some physicians believe it may interfere with the effectiveness of the chemo.

Next: Here’s another flavorful drink you should have on hand. 

11. Fruit juice

Freshly squeezed orange juice

Orange juice | canovass/iStock.com/Getty Images

If you’re dealing with diarrhea, then you may want to hold off on the fruit juice. If your stomach is doing OK and you’re dealing with dry mouth, however, orange juice is one of the best foods you can eat. Reader’s Digest says researchers found drinking orange juice and lemonade helps you produce more saliva due to the tartness stimulating the glands.

If chemo has given you a sore mouth though, take it easy on the acidic juices. They may make your symptoms worse.

Next: It’s a delicious treat, and it’s perfect for chemo patients. 

12. Custard

Pumpkin Creme Brulee custard

Custard | iStock.com

This tasty and eggy dessert can be enjoyed by chemo patients, too. If you’re dealing with mouth sores, the last thing you want to eat is something hard or chewy — and this is where custard can come into play. Reader’s Digest reminds us custard is easy to swallow, and you’ll get some extra protein from the dairy and egg base. And as far as foods go, it’s relatively bland in flavor, so it won’t upset your stomach.

Don’t like custard? Porridge is another good option, as it’s soft and takes on any number of flavors well.

Next: This one might seem odd, but it’s actually great for those on chemo. 

13. Gravy

Gravy

Gravy in a container | Madeleine_Steinbach/iStock/Getty Images

Staying hydrated is, of course, one of the best ways to combat dry mouth. But that’s not the only thing you can try if you’re on chemo. Reader’s Digest recommends moistening tougher-to-eat foods, like chicken, with gravy if you’re dealing with an extremely dry mouth. This can make it easier to swallow, and it can also give an extra boost of flavor and calories if desired.

The publication also notes other sauces work here, too, if you’re not a gravy fan.

Next: This food is the perfect side dish for all of your meals. 

14. Rice

Coconut over rice

Coconut rice | subodhsathe/Getty Images

Here’s an all-around great food to have on hand. Rice contains protein, is bland enough to stomach when you’re feeling nauseous, is soft enough to eat if you’re dealing with a sore mouth, and can be flavored in multiple ways depending on what you’re looking to have. And again, you can get your whole grains in here, too, by choosing brown rice.

If you’re not eating rice on its own, there’s also rice milk available in major grocery stores for those who can’t stomach dairy. You’ll never taste the difference if you’re putting it into a smoothie or milkshake.

Next: Here’s another ultra-nutritious type of vegetable you should be eating.

15. Dark leafy vegetables

beautiful young woman choosing green leafy vegetables in grocery store

Woman choosing green leafy vegetables in grocery store | iStock.com/takoburito

Cancer Center Treatments of America explains you should be eating as many nutrient-dense foods as possible during treatment. And dark leafy vegetables are perfect for this, as they contain a variety of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that aid in protecting cells. Not only that, but these veggies also have a significant amount of folate, which is vital for healthy DNA duplication and repair, says the United States Department of Agriculture.

Spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, and mustard greens are all excellent choices here. Throw them in a salad, add them on top of avocado toast, or put them in chicken broth, and enjoy!

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