Explore Nutrition Services

Overview

Nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment. Staying well-nourished is essential for maintaining energy and strength, healing the body, and fighting infection. Our team of registered dietitians provides evidenced based, expert nutrition counseling to patients and their caregivers as an integral part of cancer care. Their guidance can help you manage side effects and optimize wellness both during and after cancer treatment. They will work with you around your diet preferences to create an eating and hydration plan based on issues you may be experiencing, including:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Taste changes
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Food choices on a soft or liquid diet
  • Tube feeding support

Our dietitians are available for consultations at our main Boston location and at Mass General

Nutrition Tips

Tips for Eating Well During Cancer Treatment

Eating well while undergoing cancer treatment can be challenging. While not all patients experience symptoms, common side effects such as poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, bowel irregularities, and taste changes can interfere with your ability to get the nutrition you need to feel your best and heal from treatment.

Here are some tips for making it easier to get the nutrition you need when you experience common treatment side effects.

If you are losing weight or have no appetite:

  • Always have high calorie and high protein foods on hand. Good choices include nut butters, avocado, olive oil, eggs, cheese, full-fat yogurt, granola, nuts and seeds.
  • Eat smaller portions, but more often – aim for every 2-3 hours
  • Fortify foods with extra calories as much as possible. Every little bit counts. Use healthy fats when cooking – olive oil, canola oil, flax oil. Drizzle olive oil into soups, mashed potatoes, eggs, pasta, hot cereal. Stir peanut butter into hot cereals or add to a smoothie. Use Ensure Plus/Boost Plus or other bottled smoothies in place of water for smoothies, and for making instant pudding.
  • If your usual dinner plate seems overwhelming, use a small plate instead
  • Drink beverages between meals instead of with meals, so you don’t fill up on fluids
  • Choose high calorie fluids (juice, milk, or frappes) instead of water
  • Drink your nutrition - have a smoothie, frappe, or nutrition supplement drink as a meal replacement or snack.

If you have nausea and/or vomiting:

  • Take your prescribed anti-nausea medicine 30 to 60 minutes before you eat.
  • Eat small portions of foods that are easy to digest. This includes low-fat and low-fiber foods.
  • Avoid fried, spicy, very sweet or fatty foods.
  • If you are vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to replace losses and prevent dehydration.
  • Try not to skip meals. Having an empty stomach can worsen nausea. Instead, try a light meal or snack every 2-3 hrs.
  • Choose cold or room temperature foods, which emit less odors that can trigger nausea.
  • Ginger may help improve symptoms of nausea. Try ginger tea, homemade ginger ale, ginger candies, or add freshly grated ginger to chicken or fish, or in soups, stews, and smoothies.
  • Lemon may also reduce feelings of nausea. Add fresh lemon slices to your water, sip on lemonade, lemon drops, lemon ice, or try lemon aromatherapy.
  • If you experience nausea just thinking about food, try relaxation techniques such as meditation or acupuncture (ask your doctor for a referral).

If you have diarrhea:

  • Choose small meals that are bland, low in fiber, and low in fat. Good choices include crackers, white or oat-based bread, bananas, oatmeal, plain or vanilla yogurt, canned fruit, applesauce, eggs, plain chicken or fish, tofu, well-cooked and peeled vegetables, skinless potatoes, rice, noodles, soups, and smoothies.
  • Drink plenty of fluids such as broths, diluted juices, and electrolyte beverages.
  • Limit lactose-containing milk and milk products. Substitute with Lactaid, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or other dairy substitutes.
  • Salt and potassium are often lost through diarrhea. Choose foods and beverages such as sports drinks, Pedialyte, coconut water, crackers, pretzels, diluted fruit juices, bananas, and potatoes to replace losses.
  • Sugar-free gum, candies, beverages and other foods containing sorbitol may cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Avoid or limit these.

If you have constipation:

  • Eat more fiber. Eating more fiber-containing foods can help your colon pass stool. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking an adequate amount of liquid helps food to pass more easily through your intestines. Try to drink at least 8cups of non-caffeinated liquids daily. Liquids include water, fruit juice, coconut water, vegetable juice, sports drinks, milk, soups, popsicles and decaf tea/coffee. Try drinking warm or hot beverages, which can help to stimulate the bowels.
  • Prunes or prune juice contain the natural laxative sorbitol, which can help with constipation.
  • Be as active as you can.
  • Ask your doctor or dietitian if you should use bowel medications. These may include stool softeners, fiber supplements, and/or laxatives.

If you have taste changes:

  • Flavor foods with tart, tangy, and salty seasoning and sauces (however, if you have mouth sores, avoid this tip). Sauces marinades: BBQ sauce, hot sauce, pizza, tomato, teriyaki, sweet and sour, Worcestershire sauce, salsa, fruit marinades, hummus (garlic, dill, jalapeno), guacamole, vinegar. Pickles, capers. Citrus fruits/juices
  • Add herbs and spices such as curry, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, paprika, onion, pepper, oregano, basil, mint
  • Make drinks more flavorful by adding a splash of lemon/lime to water, trying flavored or fruit infused waters, or sipping on lemonade
  • If foods have metallic or bitter taste, eat with plastic or wooden utensils, and avoid drinking from cans.
  • If foods taste too salty, choose foods that are naturally sweet such as fresh fruit, yogurt, smoothies, cereal and milk, dried fruit, pudding, unsalted trail mix, Nutella with fruit, sorbet, ice cream.
  • Rinse your mouth with an oral rinse before and after eating to clear any “off” tastes: Mix 1 tsp baking soda in 1-2 cups water.
  • Keep your mouth clean and brush your teeth to combat bad tastes.
  • Suck on sugar free lemon drops, mints, or gum between meals.

Recipes

recipes

Açai Smoothie Bowl - Recommended for: Taste Changes, High Calorie, High Protein, Nausea/Vomiting, Poor Appetite.

Beet Hummus - Recommended for: Difficulty Swallowing, High Calorie, Taste Changes, Poor Appetite, Dry Mouth, Diarrhea. 

Banana Oatmeal Protein Pancakes - Recommended for: Diarrhea, Nausea/Vomiting, High Protein, Taste Changes, Difficulty Swallowing

Berry Lemon Chia Pudding - Recommended for: Nausea, Constipation, Taste Changes, High Protein, High Calorie.

Black Bean Soup with Cilantro Lime Crème - Recommended for: Difficulty Swallowing, Taste Changes, High Calorie, High Protein, Constipation, Poor Appetite, Dry Mouth.

Creamy Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup - Recommended for: Constipation, Diarrhea, High Calorie, Taste Changes, Difficulty Swallowing.

Chocolate Hazelnut Avocado Mousse Recommended for: High Calorie, Poor Appetite, Difficulty Swallowing, Sore Mouth, Diarrhea, Dry Mouth.

Gingerbread Oatmeal - Recommended for: Constipation, Diarrhea, Nausea/Vomiting, Difficulty Swallowing, Taste Changes, High Calorie, High Protein.

Granola Trail Mix - Recommended for: High Calorie, High Protein, Constipation, Poor Appetite. 

Fruit Infused Water - Recommended for: Beverages, Taste Changes, Dry Mouth.

Lemon Lentil Salad - Recommended for: Taste Changes, High Calorie, High Protein, Constipation.

Omega-3 Granola - Recommended for: Constipation, High Calorie, Poor Appetite, Diarrhea.

Savory Healing Cake - Recommended for: High Calorie, Poor Appetite, Constipation.

Savory Oatmeal – Coconut Curry Delight - Recommended for: Taste Changes, High Protein, High Calorie, Difficulty Swallowing, Constipation, Dry Mouth.

Summer Salmon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette - Recommended for: High Calorie, High Protein, Taste Changes.

Tropical Matcha Green Smoothie - Recommended for: Difficulty Swallowing, High Protein, High Calorie, Poor Appetite, Diarrhea, Nausea/Vomiting, Beverages, Dry Mouth.

Zesty Ginger Turmeric Carrot Cake - Recommended for: High Calorie, Difficulty Swallowing, Constipation, Nausea/Vomiting, Taste Changes, Dry Mouth.

Zucchini Basil Soup - Recommended for: Diarrhea, Poor Appetite, Difficulty Swallowing, Sore Mouth, Taste Changes, Dry Mouth. 

Recipes by Symptom

High Protein
High Calorie (Unintentional Weight Loss)
Diarrhea
Constipation
Nausea/Vomiting
Taste Changes
Sore Mouth
Difficulty Swallowing
Poor Appetite
Dry Mouth
Beverages

Additional Resources

AICR Healthy Recipes

AICR Healthy Recipes

A cooking guide from the American Institute for Cancer Research

AICR Recipe Guidelines

AICR Recipe Guidelines

What Makes an AICR Recipe Special

ACS Cancer Nutrition Guide

ACS Cancer Nutrition Guide

A guide from the American Cancer Society

NIH Cancer Nutrition Guide

NIH Cancer Nutrition Guide

A patient guide from the NIH National Cancer Institute.

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

From Harvard Health Publishing and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Herbs, Botanicals & More

Herbs, Botanicals & More

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s database of natural supplements.


Recommended Books

  • Cancer Fighting Kitchen Cookbook by Rebecca Katz
  • Foods that Fight Cancer by Richard Béliveau, PhD and Denis Gingras, PhD
  • Eating Well Through Cancer by Holly Clegg, Gerald Miletello, MD
  • Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Walter C Willet, MD and Patrick J. Skerritt
  • Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD