THE BLOG
11/18/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

7 Tips to Nourish Your Body During Chemo

Good nutrition is important, especially if you have cancer. The challenge for many is that chemotherapy can wreak havoc on your ability to eat. Common side effects of chemo include mouth sores, nausea and loss of appetite. Chemo can also temporarily damage taste buds causing foods to taste metallic or cardboard-like.

The inability to eat, for whatever reason, can lead to malnutrition. When cancer patients become malnourished, they can feel weak or tired and may be unable to receive the treatments they need to get better.

Follow these tips to give your body the nutrition it needs to stay strong and fight the cancer:

1. See A Dentist

Chemotherapy can cause changes in the lining of the mouth and reduce saliva production, leading to painful mouth sores and infections. It can also exacerbate any existing dental problems you had prior to cancer treatment. Visit your dentist before treatment begins (if possible) and throughout treatment to reduce the severity and frequency of these complications.

If you get mouth sores, try to eat blended soups and smoothies. Avoid any strong spices like ginger and red pepper flakes.

2. Get Your Protein On

Chemotherapy often depletes white blood cell counts, making cancer patients more prone to infection. Eating protein-rich foods will give your body the fuel it needs to build up its immune system.

Try making this delicious, protein-rich Moroccan Chicken recipe.

Don't forget there are other sources of protein besides meat. Eggs, nuts, dairy and beans are also rich in protein. Adding unflavored protein powder to smoothies and soups will give you an extra protein boost.

3. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day -- especially the day before receiving chemo. Fluids help flush the chemicals through your body and ease nausea. If the thought of drinking water makes you feel sick, try chilling it with cucumber slices or fresh lemons or buy a pre-flavored mineral water.

4. Keep Food Tasty

Chemo can wreak havoc on your taste buds, making foods and drinks taste yucky. Renowned cancer nutrition expert Rebecca Katz suggests the following advice to keep food tasting yummy...

  • If the food you are eating has a metallic taste, add a little sweetener like maple syrup or agave nectar and a squeeze of lemon.
  • If the food you are eating tastes too sweet, try adding six drops of lemon or lime juice. Slowly add more until the sweetness tastes muted.
  • If the food you are eating tastes salty, try adding ¼ teaspoon lemon juice.
  • If the food you are eating tastes bitter, add some maple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten it.
  • If everything tastes like cardboard, add sea salt. A little spritz of lemon can also help.

5. Eat A Rainbow

The more colorful your meal is, the more likely it will be filled with cancer-fighting nutrients. Eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables every day also helps naturally build up your immune system and can help improve memory.

Try making Smoky Chickpea, Red Lentil & Vegetable Soup. It's delicious, nutritious and colorful. The chickpeas and lentils add a hearty dose of protein. It takes only 30 minutes to make and you probably have most, if not all of the ingredients, sitting in your pantry.

6. Practice Food Safety

Anyone can get sick from eating "bad" food. But cancer patients, whose immune system is already weakened from chemotherapy, are even more susceptible to infection from food. Practice safe food handling. Keep things clean, wash your hands often, and avoid unpasteurized dairy and juice and raw and undercooked foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. For more food safety tips during cancer treatment, click here.

7. Talk to a Professional

If you have any questions or concerns about your nutritional needs, maintaining your weight or the inability to tolerate certain foods, talk to your oncologist, nurse or professional dietician. Also read The American Cancer Society's guide, "Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment," which is loaded with lots of helpful information.

Do you have any nourishing tips you've learned along the way? If so, please share them with us. Knowledge is power!