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I’m undergoing chemotherapy. What should I be eating? Add to ...

The question: Are there certain foods I should eat during chemotherapy? Are there foods I should avoid?

The answer: Many people think about their diet when it comes to preventing cancer. But a healthy diet is equally important for people undergoing cancer treatment. Proper nutrition can help you feel more energetic, maintain muscle mass, prevent infections and recover more quickly.

As much as possible, include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Doing so might improve your response to chemotherapy. Previous research has shown that a natural compound in fruits and vegetables called apigenin made cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. The best sources of apigenin include apples, cherries, grapes, parsley, artichoke, basil, celery, nuts and tea.

Protein-rich foods are also important to help preserve muscle mass, body tissues and weight during cancer treatment. After treatment, extra protein is needed to heal tissues and prevent infection. Ensure your meals and snacks include a source of protein such as poultry, fish, lean meat, egg whites, yogurt, legumes, nuts and nut butters.

If you can’t get enough protein from your diet, drinking commercial meal replacements can help boost your intake. If you are sensitive to the milk sugar lactose, choose a lactose-free product. Or, consider making your own protein shake with whey or brown rice protein powder, milk or almond milk and fruit. Protein powder can also be mixed into hot cereal and yogurt.

If nausea and poor appetite prevent you from eating full-sized meals, eat mini meals or snacks every one to two hours to prevent feeling too full. Eat your largest meal when you feel the hungriest, often in the morning. Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids with meals to prevent feeling too full.

Sipping on a sports drink, clear juice, flat carbonated beverage or herbal tea between meals can also help manage nausea. Eating small portions of dry, starchy foods such as bread, crackers and cereal may help too.

You may need to avoid certain foods if you have side effects such as mouth sores, tender gums or sore throat. Foods that can irritate your mouth include citrus fruit, tomato sauce and juice, spicy or salty foods, raw vegetables and dry foods such as toast and crackers. Soft foods such as milkshakes, yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, applesauce, scrambled eggs and bananas are usually well-tolerated.

It’s also very important to practice food safety. When undergoing cancer treatment, your immune system can be diminished temporarily making you more susceptible to food poisoning. To minimize the risk of infection, cook meat, poultry, seafood and eggs thoroughly. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and juice, cold smoked fish, raw tofu and unwashed produce.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel’s Direct (www.lesliebeck.com).

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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