Good nutrition is especially important for people with cancer. Both the illness and the side effects of treatment such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can affect eating as well as the way your body tolerates certain foods. Eating well while you’re being treated for cancer can help you feel better, provide strength and energy, maintain your body weight, lower your risk of infection, better tolerate side effects and help recovery and healing and.

Dietitians and other members of your healthcare team can work with you to meet your nutritional needs.

Some general guidelines during treatment:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get essential nutrients
  • Be as active as you can

Pro Tip: Eating well includes a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals.


Are necessary for growth, to repair body tissue and keep our immune systems healthy. After surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy, extra protein is needed to heal tissues and help fight infection.

Best sources of protein: Poultry, fish, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, nut butters, dried beans, peas and lentils

Fats and Oils

Aa source of energy for the body. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissues and transport fat soluble vitamins.

  • Monounsaturated fats are mainly in vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil
  • Polyunsaturated fats are mainly seafood, vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn and flaxseed oils.
  • Saturated fats are mainly found in animal sources such as meat, milk, cheese and butter. Additionally, coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil are saturated. Saturated fats are a great source of protein however it is best to choose the lean cuts of meat as the fat from animal sources can raise bad cholesterol and can contribute to heart disease.
  • Trans-fatty acids are formed when vegetable oils are processed into solids like margarine or shortening. Many processed snack foods and baked goods contain trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol so in is recommended to minimize these in your diet.

Best sources of fat: Monounsaturated fats and polyunsatured fats.


Carbs give our body fuel necessary for physical activity and proper organ function

Whole grains are found in cereals, bread and flours. Barley, brown rice and quinoa are great choices. Look for products that state whole grain, stone ground, whole ground whole-wheat flour, whole oat flour or whole-rye flour.

*Other sources of carbohydrates such as white bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, corn, peas, beans and sweets like desserts, candy and sugary drinks can provide carbohydrates but very little nutritional value in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Best sources of carbohydrates: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Water and Fluids

These are vital to health since body cells need water to function. Not taking in adequate fluids or if fluids are lost due to vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes the fluids and electrolytes to become out of balance and compromises the body’s ability to carry out normal functions. If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, your fluid intake should be more since you will have increased fluid loss. Soups, milk, and gelatin also count toward your fluid goals.

Vitamins and Minerals

These important to help the body function properly. Most are found naturally in foods. A balanced diet with adequate calories and protein typically provides enough vitamins and minerals however if you are unable to eat a balanced diet due to cancer treatment or experiencing side effects such as vomiting or diarrhea, it may necessary to incorporate a multivitamin or supplement.

Disclosure: These are nutrition recommendations and some side effects are treated with medication. If your side effects are affecting your hydration and nutrition it is important to talk with members of your healthcare team.

By Laura Stearns, RDN