8 Healthy Foods for People With Cancer

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier on November 7, 2021

If you're going through cancer treatment or in recovery, you may have side effects like fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite, changed sense of taste, weight loss or weight gain. What you eat can help remedy these. Of course, not every cancer patient has the same nutrition needs; if in doubt, talk to your doctor. But keep these eight foods in mind when planning your meals: They can provide much-needed energy and comfort when you need it most.

  • Hispanic woman eating melon
    Melon Balls
    Try fresh or frozen cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon to soothe the sore mouth that sometimes can occur with treatment. Other choices: frozen grapes or bananas, berries, pineapple, or pears. Fruit in general--fresh, canned in juice or frozen--is nutritious, easy to prepare and goes down easy. Plus it's high in water content to fight dehydration. Be sure to wash fresh fruit carefully: It's especially important to avoid food-borne illness during treatment.
  • bowl of oatmeal with blueberries
    Hot Cereal
    Refined hot cereals like Cream of Wheat, Cream of Rice, farina, instant oatmeal and grits are soft, bland, easy to digest and a good source of fiber and calories. They help combat weight loss, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. (Rice-based cereal is particularly good if you are having digestive problems.) They're also convenient and super-easy to make: a big consideration when you're fighting fatigue. Tip: These are a good option to have on hand for treatment days.
  • woman-cracking-eggs-in-bowl
    A protein-rich diet is a good way to boost your energy levels. Eggs are a compact and versatile source of protein. Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand to cut up and serve in salads, casseroles, soups or to use in egg salad. Or make scrambled eggs and omelets. Low-fat alternatives like commercial egg substitutes are OK, too, especially if you're concerned about weight gain. Just make sure to cook thoroughly—raw eggs are unsafe.
  • Woman holding a tray of roasted chicken
    Rotisserie Chicken
    Chicken is another good source of lean protein. Rotisserie chicken from your grocery store is not only extra tender but is convenient--no cooking required, which is key when you're feeling fatigued. Plus, it's soft, easy to eat, and can be used in many ways: in soups, stews, sandwiches, on top of salads, or in chicken salad. A convenient alternative is to use your slow cooker; let chicken (or other lean meats) cook all day while you're at work or in treatment.
  • Popsicles
    Popsicles can soothe the sore throat, mouth and tongue that can be caused by cancer treatment. They help with dry mouth and also can help keep you hydrated--a big requirement during treatment, especially if you're nauseated or vomiting and need to be on a clear liquid diet. Look for popsicles without fruit bits, pulp, seeds or milk for best digestion. Other choices: frozen flavored fruit ice, Italian ice or shaved ice.
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Series
    Peanut Butter
    Peanut butter is a convenient source of protein that can be used in many ways besides the peanut butter sandwich (though that's good, too). You can use it as a dip or spread for fruits and veggies, blend it into shakes and smoothies, top whole-grain waffles with it, and mix it into stir-fry sauces. Look for 100 percent peanut butter made without added oils. Tip: Avoid peanut butter on days when you are having dry mouth.
  • Gourmet Fruit and Nut Mix
    Trail Mix
    This is a quick, easy snack full of fiber, protein and grains--perfect to have on hand to fight weight loss and give you a boost when you're fatigued. You can make up your own trail mix or buy premade in stores. Toss together dry cereals or granola, dry fruits such as raisins and cranberries, and nuts. Optional: chocolate or carob chips, flax seeds, M&Ms. You can also keep dried fruits on hand to eat on their own.
  • Caucasian woman drinking purple smoothie
    Blend fresh or frozen fruit with yogurt to create a drink that is soothing on the mouth, helps prevent weight loss, provides nutrients and keeps you hydrated. Plus, yogurt promotes healthy digestion. Make extra smoothies or shakes to keep in the fridge to make meal prep easier. Or, if you don't have energy to make your own, smoothies can be found premade in grocery stores, coffee shops and other outlets.
8 Healthy Foods for People With Cancer

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. I Have Cancer - What Should I Eat? Health Essentials From Cleveland Clinic. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/06/i-have-cancer-what-should-i-eat/
  2. Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/eating-hints
  3. Cancer Resource: Dealing With Treatment Side Effects. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/patients-survivors/cancerresource/cancerresource-side-effects.html
  4. Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002903-pdf.pdf
  5. Nutrition and Diet. Cancer Matters. http://www.cancermatters.com/nutrition-and-diet/
  6. Make Your Own Trail Mix. Cancer Matters. http://www.cancermatters.com/survivorship/health-and-wellness/recipes/trail-mix/
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.