Foods To Avoid While Undergoing Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that involves the use of chemicals or drugs. Chemotherapy may come in the form of pills, liquid medications, or, more commonly, injections or IVs. Different types of medication cause different side effects, but chemotherapy patients typically experience severe nausea and vomiting. Many also complain that food tastes strange or metallic or that it has no taste at all. It is vitally important that people receiving chemotherapy receive proper nutrition to give them the strength to help fight their cancer. There are some foods, though, that people taking chemotherapy should avoid.

Some people on chemotherapy who have trouble with the way food tastes turn to hot or spicy foods like hot peppers or Cajun dishes. Unfortunately, this is usually a bad idea. Spicy foods intensify nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, making it even harder for people receiving chemotherapy to get adequate nutrition. Some people on chemotherapy also develop sores in their mouths, and spicy foods can make the pain worse. For people who do not have sores in their mouths, citrus foods like grapefruit or orange juice can help with taste issues. For those who do have sores, cold or cool soft foods like yogurt are usually a good bet.

Another poor choice for people undergoing chemotherapy is raw or under-cooked foods. These include raw fish such as sushi, rare or under-cooked meats, raw or runny eggs and raw vegetables. Even though many of these foods contain useful nutrients, chemotherapy tends to lower white blood cell counts. This weakens the immune system, making the body less able to fight off the organisms in uncooked or under-cooked foods. Secondary infections make it harder for the body to tolerate chemotherapy and to muster the strength it needs to fight the cancer. When cooking food, it is best to steam, grill or boil it. Fried, greasy foods may increase nausea and vomiting.

Finally, people undergoing chemotherapy should avoid rich desserts. Rich foods can make stomach upset worse. Furthermore, some types of chemotherapy make foods taste even sweeter than they should. This can affect the appetite and make people less likely to eat other foods that might taste better. Finally, rich desserts tend to be chock full of empty calories. It's better to consume calories filled with proteins, nutrients, and vitamins. People who enjoy sweets may be able to enjoy a small dish of ice cream or a Popsicle.

Whatever foods people who are on chemotherapy choose to consume, it's best to eat several small meals or snacks a day instead of two or three big meals. If one food causes a bad reaction or doesn't taste appealing, experiment with other foods. Some people are surprised to find that foods that they have never enjoyed somehow taste appealing during chemotherapy.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "Foods To Avoid While Undergoing Chemotherapy," in, January 9, 2016, (accessed August 17, 2022).