foods to avoid while on chemo

Worst Food Choices During Chemotherapy

Things You Probably Shouldn't Eat

The journey through cancer treatment is a challenging one, filled with highs and lows, many questions and an overwhelming amount of information. Depending on the type of cancer and its stage, chemotherapy is often a first and long-term treatment option. Chemotherapy consists of the administration of chemicals that work to destroy cancer cells and prevent the growth of tumors. These chemotherapy drugs are administered through an intravenous line, orally or through the skin. Let's take a look at what foods to avoid while on chemo.

Why Should I Think About My Food Choices?

While chemotherapy is often an effective treatment against cancer, it does cause several undesirable side effects. Not everyone undergoing chemotherapy will experience all of the possible side effects, which typically go away once treatment ends. Side effects include tiredness, hair loss, a loss of appetite, anemia, infections, bruising, changes to skin and nails and more. In addition, chemo patients often face challenges regarding their diet and digestive health.

One of the most challenging symptoms to deal with is a loss of appetite. Without the fuel we obtain from food, many of these side effects, such as fatigue, anemia and feeling awful, are worsened. Other side effects are changes in your bowel movements, such as diarrhea and constipation. In addition, healthy eating is critical during cancer treatment; sound nutrition will help you through your treatment phase and provide the food your body needs to prevent other illnesses from developing.

Why Nutrition Matters

Many of you are aware of what healthy eating consists of; we need to eat a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes and beans and whole grains. Cancer patients are more vulnerable because of their treatment, so nutrition matters more than ever. Unfortunately, there isn't a specific list of “chemotherapy foods.” However, there are some foods that you may want to avoid during your chemotherapy.

Some foods will worsen the side effects caused by chemotherapy; certain foods aggravate diarrhea, others cause worsening constipation and others can cause food-borne diseases or infections. In addition, while receiving cancer treatment, your immune system is not working optimally; your dietary choices are critically important to maintaining your health and enjoyment of life.

You May Want to Avoid These Foods

A loss of appetite is common, and many patients experience profound nausea. However, it is still essential to eat well. When eating is a daunting task, it's even more important to make each bite of food count; whatever is consumed must be of high nutritional value. Some foods are wrong choices, such as high-fat, highly processed and fast foods.

Other foods to avoid have been carefully researched by cancer experts. John Hopkins recommends avoiding several foods while undergoing chemotherapy. These foods include those that carry a higher risk of foodborne illness and those that increase inflammation. Consider avoiding the following:

  • Sushi and sashimi and any other raw or barely cooked foods.
  • Soft-boiled eggs and foods that contain raw eggs (think mayo).
  • Dairy products that have not been pasteurized.
  • Any food, especially undercooked meat and fish.
  • Fruits and vegetables that have yet to be thoroughly washed, including organics.

By avoiding these foods, you can reduce your risk of foodborne illness and infections while your immune system is compromised due to the chemotherapy.

Tips and Tricks for Eating While Having Chemotherapy

The Cleveland Clinic also offers its recommendations on foods to avoid, and these foods include those that are more challenging for our bodies to process during digestion, such as high-fat and spicy foods. In addition, foods known to create gas are best left off your plate, including broccoli, cabbage and corn. Finally, this highly regarded clinic recommends eating small meals often, as an empty stomach can increase nausea and cramping.

The American Council of Clinical Oncology also offers a list of foods to avoid during chemotherapy treatment. These foods are also cautioned against because of the higher risk of developing a foodborne illness, such as food poisoning or bacterial infection. Like John Hopkins, this council also discourages consuming unpasteurized dairy products, and undercooked or raw meats, including fish, pates and unwashed fruits and vegetables.

They also discourage eating unpasteurized juices and ciders, baking using raw eggs and eating raw sprouts. Many summertime salads that include mayonnaise or seafood should also wait until your chemotherapy treatment has ended, your immune system is robust and your digestive health is optimal.

A few other tips can best guide your food choices during your chemotherapy treatment. Stanford Medicine suggests eating cool or cold food as it does not induce nausea and vomiting. In addition, they recommend eating small bites and meals, so you may want to abandon the standard three-meals-a-day plan. Further, Stanford Medicine suggests low-fat and bland foods are better tolerated than high-fat and heavily seasoned dishes.

Plan for Success

Every diagnosis and treatment plan is unique to the person experiencing the cancer. Before making any dietary changes, consult your primary care physician, health care team, cancer team and a registered dietician for professional guidance. You are unique and your nutritional needs are particularly to you; this is even more true if you have other health conditions such as celiac disease, allergies, heart disease or diabetes. Be well.