Why is eating well so important?

During your cancer treatment you need to keep up your energy and strength and one way of doing this is by eating well. Apart from obtaining and staying at a healthy weight, good eating helps improve your mood and prevent or reduce the risk of other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

It’s particularly important to eat the right kinds of food before, during and after cancer treatment to help you feel better, stay stronger and stimulate the immune system. A healthy diet includes eating and drinking enough foods and liquids to provide sufficient nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water) the body needs.

Stocking up before your treatment

Try and stock up your fridge/freezer and pantry so you don’t have to worry too much about shopping once you start your treatment. Here are a few useful tips:

  • Make sure there are foods you can eat when you’re not feeling well.
  • Cook larger portions of your favourite (correct) foods and freeze meal-sized portions.
  • Buy easy-to-prepare foods such as butternut soup, canned fish or chicken, cheese and eggs. 

Loss of appetite

This is a common problem with people diagnosed with cancer and if it leads to weight loss and even malnutrition, can slow down recovery and even damage the immune system. Try these ideas to improve your appetite and avoid this happening to you: 

Eat five or six smaller meals per day

Eat the largest meal when hungriest

Avoid spicy foods

High-protein, high-kilojoule foods

Avoid sugar-sweetened and fizzy drinks

Avoid nausea, don't drink with meals

Drink high-kilojoule, high-protein drinks

Add extra kilojoules and protein to food

Take medicines with high-kilojoule fluids


If nausea is a problem:

  • Sip on clear liquids at room temperature or cooler
  • Eat sitting up and keep your head raised for about an hour after eating

If vomiting is a problem:

  • Avoid eating or drinking until the vomiting is controlled
  • Sip on small amounts of clear liquids such as cranberry or pomegranate juice. 
  • Nibble plain foods such as pretzels or crackers

If you find changes in taste and smell try: 

  • Frozen melon balls, grapes, oranges or tart foods and drinks
  • Mild marinades and spices
  • If meat becomes less appealing try other sources of proteins (poultry, fish, beans, eggs)
  • If food tastes bitter or salty, try adding small amounts of sugar
  • Brush teeth and tongue and rinse regularly, especially before eating
  • Rinse your mouth a few times a day with a mixture made up of one litre of water with one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of baking soda or an alcohol-free mouthwash

Foods to avoid during cancer treatment

  • Cold hot dogs or any deli lunch meat, including dry-cured salami – always cook or reheat until meat is steaming hot
  • Unpasteurised (raw) milk and milk products, including raw milk yoghurt and soft cheeses such as blue-veined, brie, camembert, feta and goat cheese
  • Deli-prepared salads with egg, ham, chicken or seafood
  • Refrigerated pâté
  • Unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, including salad leaves
  • Unpasteurised fruit juice or cider
  • Raw sprouts
  • Raw or undercooked beef (especially minced beef) or other raw or undercooked meat and poultry
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish, like oysters – which may carry hepatitis A virus and must be cooked thoroughly to destroy the virus
  • Sushi and sashimi (raw fish) including frozen fish labelled sushi or sashimi grade. Check with a registered dietician before eating these foods
  • Undercooked eggs, such as soft boiled, over easy and poached
  • Raw, unpasteurised eggs or foods made with raw egg, such as raw dough or homemade mayonnaise

It’s a good idea to consult with a registered dietitian for personalised help.