Follow us on:

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube


Nutrition in Cancer Treatment |09 February 2024

Nutrition in Cancer Treatment

Although diet is not a direct cause for cancer, there are certain foods that can increase your risk of developing certain forms of cancer over time. Highly processed or ultra-processed foods, that is, foods that have undergone industrial processing, and fast foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats can increase your risk of obesity. Greater body fatness may increase your risk of cancer. Examples of highly processed and fast foods include burgers, fried chicken, chips, hot dog, pizza, cakes, pastries, biscuits, confectionary, fizzy drinks, slush, shakes and juices.

On the flip side there are certain foods which can lower your risk of cancer. These foods should make up the bulk of a healthy diet and helps in maintenance of a healthy body weight. It includes plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, lentils and beans which can be consumed alongside other healthy animal-based options like fish, chicken and eggs.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, aside from the cancer treatment, you should therefore be mindful of the important role that nutrition plays. As you undergo treatment and recover you want to make sure that you are making the right food choices to stay in remission.

Cancer itself may have many symptoms that make eating challenging. In addition, cancer treatment may also cause side-effects that make it difficult for you to get adequate nutrition. This may increase your risk of malnutrition. On the contrary, certain medications may increase the risk of excessive weight gain. You should make it a priority to understand more about how you should nourish yourself during and after treatment.


Managing side effects of cancer treatment

Cancer treatment at times can have certain side effects that can reduce your appetite or cause weight loss. Although symptoms vary from one person to another, some common symptoms include diarrheanausea, vomiting, fatigue, constipation, mouth sores, dry mouth, loss of taste and changes in the way things taste. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may have difficulty to eat and drink.

If you find yourself really struggling to eat and drink because of side effects of treatment, it is important to discuss with your health care team. There are ways they can help, such as prescribing medication that relieve specific side effects or guidance on how you can manage them. In the meantime, we will go through some ideas that you can try at home to help improve some common side effects.

Managing taste changes

If you are experiencing a loss of taste, then you should choose foods with more flavour and aroma. You can do so by using more herbs and spices like basil, thyme, garlic and cinnamon. You can enhance the flavour of foods like fish and chicken by marinating prior to cooking.

If you are having taste changes then you should try to limit foods which taste unpleasant. However, there may be times when finding a suitable alternative may be warranted. For instance, if water does not taste good, get liquid in foods and other drinks such as soup, fruits like watermelon, tea or milk as you still need to stay hydrated. You can also naturally flavour your water with slices of fruits like oranges or lime, vegetables like cucumber, or herbs like mint.

If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, try a gargle with lemon juice and water before eating. You can also try to suck on mints or lemon drops, fresh citrus fruits or chew gum. To try and minimise the metal taste use plastic utensils and cook in non-metal pots and pans. You might find brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth before eating helpful as well.


Managing sore or painful mouth

If you have mouth sores, then you should make sure that your food is soft and moist. You should use a blender or food processor to ensure that your cooked vegetables and meats have a smooth texture. Avoid very dry and rough textured foods like toasts, raw vegetables, crackers or cereal bars. You should also avoid tart, acidic foods like citrus fruits (think oranges, grapefruit), and spicy foods like chilli, curry powder and cayenne pepper. You can try ice lollies or ice cubes to soothe painful sores.


Managing loss of appetite

Eat several small meals or nutritious snacks throughout the day, instead of three large meals. Large portions of food can be off-putting therefore it is best to have smaller portions. You should also eat more at the time of the day when your appetite is best. Since you might not really have an appetite, avoid filling up with liquids before or during meals.


Meeting your nutrient needs

When it comes to dietary intake however, there is no one-size-fits-all approach as individual needs will vary depending on your age, stage of life, type of cancer, type of cancer treatment, symptoms, and whether you have other health conditions. Therefore, the focus is on ensuring that you are getting adequate nutrients to help you maintain a healthy body weight and also help your body recover as you undergo treatment.


Protein is important for growth, repairs of body tissue and maintenance of body cells. Following cancer treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you might need extra protein to heal tissues and help the body fight infection. It is therefore important to include good sources of protein in your diet like fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, milk products, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils. Avoid canned foods that are high in salt like canned chickpeas or baked beans or processed meats like frankfurters, nuggets, ham and salami.


Carbohydrate is the body’s main energy source which is needed for all bodily functions. The best source of carbohydrates are whole grains like oats, barley, bulgur wheat and starchy crops like sweet potato, breadfruit and yam. Aside from energy these plant-based foods also provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytochemicals. Avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and corn flakes as they are usually stripped of important nutrients. Sugary foods like chocolates, sweets, fizzy drinks, juices, cakes, pastries and biscuits, provides sugar but are devoid of other nutrients and should be avoided as they can lead to obesity.


Fats have many important roles in the body such as, an energy store, to insulate the body and regulate temperature and to cushion vital organs from trauma. When it comes to food sources, the information out there can make it a bit confusing. Foods typically have a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fats. It is better however to choose foods that are higher in unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fish. Limit your intake of foods that are higher in saturated fats like red meat, full-fat milk products, butter, coconut oil and pam oil.

Dietary supplements

If you are able to eat a diversified diet with the inclusion of foods from all food groups, then you will be able to meet your body’s nutrient needs including for vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are found in a variety of foods of both plant and animal origin, and they have many important functions in the body. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to eat properly when you have cancer or undergoing cancer treatment, especially if you are having side effects so you may be at risk of deficiency.


If you have noticed that your food intake has reduced for several weeks and you have started to lose weight and become weak then it is important to get help from a health professional. It is not advisable however to decide on a whim to take a multivitamin or mineral supplement. You might have heard or read somewhere that supplements can help boost your immune system or even destroy cancer cells but they can be harmful if inappropriately taken.

Dietary supplements are poorly regulated and may actually cause more harm than good. This is because they may have mega doses of vitamins and minerals (beyond what the body needs!), or may contain harmful ingredients not listed on the packaging. These may interact with the cancer cells or interfere with your treatment, making it less effective. If you are thinking of taking a dietary supplement discuss it with your health team first.

Thank you for joining us this week on our Eat for Our Health page. Look us up on Social Media - Eat for our Health Seychelles on Facebook.


Please get in touch by emailing and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.


Yours in health

The Nutrition Team


More news