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home | Symptoms | Chemo, Nausea and Nutrition

Chemo, Nausea and Nutrition

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As caregivers we have a lot invested in keeping our senior family member strong. When we're caring for someone undergoing chemotherapy we often face an uphill battle because one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy - nausea - can cause our loved one to lose weight and become dehydrated frighteningly quickly.

Weight and fluid loss are our enemies when we care for someone with cancer. Our impulse is to focus much of our energy on food: preparing nutritious meals, offering food frequently, and bulking up our menus with rich and tempting offerings. Often this will backfire for someone experiencing nausea.

The best thing you can do to help someone experiencing nausea from chemotherapy is to be supportive, but not pushy. Keep easily digested food and drink handy, but let the patient decide what and when to eat and drink. Nausea can strike at odd times. The aim is to keep food and fluid in the body, so your ultimate goal is not "getting something down," but rather, "keeping it down"

When you are overwhelmed with caretaking, things can run together. Keep a watchful eye and a record of when nausea tends to strike, and what, if anything, your patient ate that didn't agree. If you see trends, avoid offering food that didn't work, and avoid the time(s) of day that appear to be consistently most difficult. If there seems to be a trend toward a "best" time of day, make that a light mealtime if you can.

Healthy and balanced meals are always our goal, but at a time like this, simply getting calories and fluid into your chemo patient is primary. If you find a food that seems to sit well and your patient enjoys eating, you can offer it in small portions as often as you like. Like anything else, however, if you overdo one particular food don't be surprised if it quickly loses its attraction.

While we might be tempted to enrich the foods we offer with butter, cream, milk, or ice cream, these foods are high in fat and difficult to digest. Many fruits, grains and vegetables are also high in fiber and harder for the stomach and digestive tract to process. You may well suffer a backlash if you go this route.

Foods that smell "yummy" stand a good chance of setting off a bout of nausea. Chemo patients who are having difficulty keeping food down are often made nauseous by strong odors. Although you loved one may have always loved garlicky Italian foods, butter fried eggs, chocolate and other aromatic foods, this is probably not the time to rely on tempting smells from the kitchen. In fact, many caretakers find that they run into trouble even when they try to cook meals for the rest of the family and their cancer patient is exposed to the kitchen smells.

You and your chemo patient will probably be better served if you stick to small, frequent meals of foods and drinks that are easy on both the nose and the digestive tract:

Liquids: Drinks at room temperature are often better tolerated than cold or hot drinks-

Clear beef, chicken or vegetable broth

Clear soda - ginger ale is often a favorite. Allowing soda to go flat is often helpful

Tea: plain, peppermint or ginger

Cranberry or grape juice

Sports drinks or Pedialyte



Skinless chicken, broiled or baked. White meat has less fat than dark

Small servings of room temperature cooked cereals: oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, farina, etc.

Noodles or pasta, very lightly buttered or plain

Skinless boiled, baked or mashed potato

Boiled (soft or hard) eggs

White rice

White toast, with  plain jelly (no seeds) if tolerated

Fruits & Snacks:

Saltine crackers, with peanut butter or jelly if tolerated


Ginger candy


Flavored gelatin

Canned fruit, particularly applesauce, pears or peaches

Sherbet and frozen ices, juice bars

Plain or vanilla yogurt (if tolerated)

Other hints for boosting a cancer patient's food and liquid intake:

• Be sure your loved one takes any prescribed anti-nausea medication as ordered. The medication will not be effective if the patient waits until nausea hits.

• Try offering a small meal every two hours or so rather than larger meals three times daily.

• Avoid adding garlic, onion or pepper to foods.  

• Discourage lying down after a meal. This can cause reflux. Semi-reclining is usually safer.

• Although it sounds counter-intuitive, sometimes eating a few bites of something very plain and mild such as dry toast or crackers can settle a nauseated stomach.

• Make sure fluids are always available and encourage small sips frequently. Try sipping through a straw if the smell is a problem.

• Place a few crackers, a small piece of toast or dry bread on the bedside table at night. Eating a small snack before rising in the morning can help prevent the nausea of an empty stomach.

• Nutritional supplement drinks such as Boost, Ensure and Carnation Instant Breakfast can be a good source of fairly balanced calories. However, don't invest a supply of these until you are sure your loved one can tolerate the richness and the milk content.


We Recommend: Eating Well Through Cancer: Easy Recipes & Recommendations During & After Treatment

Designed for cancer patients and their family, these easy-to-follow recipes focus on foods best tolerated and those to ease the symptoms during treatment. With an oncologist's chapter introduction, doctor's notes, menu planning, tips, nutritional analysis, diabetic exchanges, Eating Well Through Cancer serves as a guide for nutrition before, during, and after cancer treatment. Learn More From Amazon -


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