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Cancer-Friendly Diet Tips

Learn why the foods you eat could help you recover faster. 

Medically reviewed in July 2022

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Eating healthy isn't an easy task if you have cancer. You need nutrients more than ever, but you may not feel much like eating, or you may find it difficult to eat even your favorite foods. The right nutrition will keep up your strength and energy, help you tolerate treatment-related side effects (such as pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue), make you feel better and speed up your recovery.

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Fight Infection with Protein

People with cancer usually need more protein because it helps to heal tissues and fight infection after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.  Fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat diary products, nuts and soy foods are all good sources of protein you can incorporate into your diet.

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Fuel Up with Carbohydrates

There's a reason why runners carb-load before a marathon. Carbs are our body's main energy source, fueling us for physical activity and keeping our organs functioning. Carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies and whole grains supply our bodies with vitamins and minerals. An added bonus: Carbs such as sliced veggies and whole grain cereal help fight against common cancer treatment side effects such as fatigue and constipation. 

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Keep Hydrated

Water is important for everyday health, but especially so if you have cancer. Drink water to ward off dehydration from the nasty side effects of cancer treatment, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Experts recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid every day, but you may need even more if you're vomiting or have diarrhea. 

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Stave Off Mouth Sores and Dry Mouth

Mouth sores or sore throat are common with certain chemo drugs or radiation. Try eating soft, bland foods such as pureed vegetables or lukewarm or cold foods such as soups and smoothies. Still in pain? Try this trick, which is an oldie, but a goodie: Rinse your mouth regularly with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt mixed in a quart of water. Radiation therapy, chemo and other medications can also cause dry mouth, which can lead to a mouth infection or cavities. Ditch dry mouth by drinking plenty of fluids and chewing on sugarless gum to stimulate saliva.

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Conquer Appetite Changes

Common treatment-related side effects such as pain, nausea and constipation can cause a loss of appetite. If you're having appetite troubles, try eating several snacks throughout the day in lieu of large meals, and avoid drinking during meals, opting instead to drink between meals. If a snack attack ever hits, keep high-calorie, protein-rich snacks on hand, such as hard-cooked eggs, peanut butter, granola bars and cheese. 

Related: Colorful Recipes to Boost Your Health

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