Eating well

There may be times during your cancer treatment when you are unable to eat well. Losing weight or having a reduced food intake can make it more difficult for you to cope with treatments like surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

During these times you may need to change the balance of your diet to include different foods. It may also be helpful to alter when or how often you eat to make sure you try to eat enough. These may be short-term or long-term changes depending on your treatment and health.

What foods should I try to eat?

We should all try to eat a wide variety of different foods to make sure we get the nutrition our bodies need.

Meat, fish, eggs, tofu, soya products, pulses (beans and lentils), Quorn, nuts    

These are a good source of protein, which is needed for the growth of body tissue, muscle strength and wound healing. Some also contain fat, so are a good source of energy (calories). They also contain vitamins and minerals.

Dairy products (such as cheese, milk, yoghurt and fromage frais) and non-dairy alternatives (such as soya milk and soya yoghurt)    

These contain protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. If you are losing weight choose the full-fat varieties. If eating non-dairy alternatives choose those that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Sugar, honey, syrup, treacle and sugary foods, such as chocolate, cakes and sweets

These are good sources of energy.

Butter, margarine, oil, ghee and cream    

These are good sources of energy and contain fat-soluble vitamins.

Fruit and vegetables

These are a good source of vitamins and minerals, but not usually of protein and energy. If you have a poor appetite you may need to reduce your normal quantities to enable you to eat higher energy foods.

Drinks    

Aim to drink eight to ten cups or glasses each day. If you have a poor appetite choose nourishing drinks rather than just tea, coffee or water.

Are there any foods I should avoid?

When you are ill or having treatment you are more at risk of getting food poisoning. It is best to avoid the following foods:

  • raw or lightly cooked eggs
  • soft, ripened cheese (like Brie or Camembert) or blue-veined cheese (like Stilton)
  • pâté.

Good food hygiene is also important.

Already following a different diet?

If you are already following a diet for other health reasons you may wish to discuss this with a dietitian.

Find out more

Further information can be found in this section of the website and in the Eating Well booklet, available to download as a PDF below in or by contacting the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).