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Nutrition During Chemotherapy and/or Radiation Treatment

Throughout cancer treatment, your goal will be weight maintenance and good nutrition. Eating well during treatment can help you:

Maintain Your Weight

Try to keep your weight stable during treatment. Your health care team will monitor you for rapid weight loss or weight gain. In general, your protein needs will be higher due to both the cancer and treatment. Your calorie needs may also increase with cancer and treatment. Even though you may not be as active during treatment, you may need to eat more to keep from losing weight. We recommend that you do not take a general multivitamin that contains more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV).

Eat a Healthy Diet

Good nutrition during treatment may differ among individuals. If your appetite is good and your weight is steady, try to eat a balanced, healthy diet:

Fruits and Vegetables - Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables by focusing on different colors each week. Choose 5 to 7 servings, or greater than 4 cups, per day.

Grains - Eat at least 6 servings of grain products per day with at least 3 of those servings being whole grain products. Examples include: ½ cup of oatmeal; ½ cup of brown rice; 1 slice of whole grain bread; and ½ cup of whole wheat pasta.

Meat and Poultry - Choose moderate amounts of low fat meat, poultry and fish, about 6 ounces per day. Examples include: lean beef trimmed of fat, such as round, sirloin, flank, tenderloin, and ground beef which is 90% lean or greater; cuts of pork trimmed of all visible fat; and skinless chicken breast.

Dairy - Choose moderate amounts of low fat dairy foods, about 3 serving per day. Examples include: 1 cup of low fat milk; 1 cup of low fat yogurt; 2 cups of low fat cottage cheese; and 1/3 cup of low fat shredded cheese (3 grams of fat or less per ounce).

Cut back on fat, sugar, alcohol and salt.

Fluids - You need 6 to 8 servings of non-caffeinated liquids per day. Each serving should be 8 ounces. Beverages that contain caffeine cannot be counted as part of your fluid intake. Foods that are liquid at room temperature, however, can be counted. Some examples are: ice cream, sherbet, gelatin, cream soups, and popsicles. Keep some type of fluid with you at all times so you can sip continually throughout the day. If you are not eating well, choose fluids that contain calories, such as fruit juices, milk, smoothies, sports drinks, and liquid supplements or meal replacements.

Handy Snacks to Help with a Low Appetite


  • Applesauce
  • Bean Dip
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Cereal
  • Cheese
  • Cheese Dip
  • Chocolate milk
  • Cookies
  • Cottage cheese
  • Crackers
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Fruit (fresh, dried, canned)
  • Nuts
  • Gelatin
  • Granola
  • Hot dogs
  • Ice cream
  • Instant breakfast
  • Juice
  • Milkshake
  • Peanut
  • Pizza
  • Popsicles
  • Pretzels
  • Pudding
  • Quesadilla
  • Sandwich
  • Smoothie
  • Soup
  • Trail mix
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt

Increase Calories When Needed

Eating a healthy diet during treatment may be challenging. You may not feel hungry and foods may not taste right to you. Even small amounts of food may make you feel full. If you have trouble eating, choose high calorie and high protein foods as listed in the table below. Push yourself to eat even when you are not hungry. Try taking small, frequent meals and using liquid supplements, such as Boost™, Carnation Instant Breakfast Drink™ or Ensure™ to help add calories and protein daily.

More Ideas for Increasing Calories


Add . . .


Additional Calories


Butter, Margarine


Sour Cream


1 tablespoon


1 tablespoon





Soups, Potatoes, Hot Cereal, Grits, Rice, Noodles, Cooked Vegetables, Gravies and Sauces

Whipped Cream

2 tablespoons


Hot Chocolate, Desserts, Gelatin, Pudding, Fruit, Pancakes and Waffles

Whole Milk


Half and Half

1 cup


1 cup




Soups, Sauces, Scrambled Eggs, Pudding, Hot Cereals, Mashed Potatoes, Hot Chocolate, Meatloaf and Hamburgers

Cream Cheese


1 tablespoon


Breads, Muffins, Fruit and Crackers

Honey, Jam, Sugar (white or brown)

1 tablespoon


1 tablespoon




Breads, Cereals, Shakes, Fruit, Yogurt and Meats



2/3 cup


Cookies, Muffins or Bread Mixes, Yogurt, Fruit and Ice Cream

Dried Fruits


1 mini box of raisins or 2 dried apricots


Muffins, Cookies, Breads, Cakes, Cereals and Puddings

Foods That Help Increase Protein



Nuts and Legumes

More Ideas for Increasing Protein

Add . . .


Extra Calories

Extra Protein



1 ounce


7 g

Sandwiches, Breads, Muffins, Tortillas, Chili, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Vegetables, Eggs, Soup, Casseroles, Potatoes, Rice and Pasta

Whole Milk (instead of water)

1 cup


8 g

Hot Cereals, Soups and Hot Chocolate

Powdered Milk

¼ cup


6 g

Shakes, Milk, Casseroles, Meatloaf, Bread, Muffins, Sauces, Soups, Mashed Potatoes, Puddings, Hot Cereals and Scrambled Eggs

Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt

½ cup


4 g

Carbonated Drinks (Root Beer Float), Shakes, Fruit and "a la mode" with Cakes, Cookies, Brownies, Pies, etc . . .

Eggs (hard cooked)

1 egg


7 g

Salads, Casseroles, Soups and Vegetables

Nuts, Seeds

Wheat Germ


¼ cup


¼ cup



6-9 g



8 g

Casseroles, Breads, Muffins, Pancakes, Cookies and Waffles. Sprinkle on Fruit, Cereal, Ice Cream, Yogurt, Vegetables, Salads and Toast as a crunchy topping. Use in place of Bread Crumbs. Blend with Parsley or Spinach, Herbs and Cream for a Noodle, Pasta or Vegetable Sauce. Roll a Banana in chopped Nuts.

Peanut Butter

2 T


8 g

Sandwiches, Toast, Crackers, Muffins, Fruit, Waffles, Pancakes, Vegetables and Shakes

Beans or Legumes

¼ cup


8 g

Soups, Casseroles, Pastas, Grains and Vegetables



Meat and Fish

1 ounce 75 7 g Add chopped, cooked Meat or Fish to Vegetables, Salads, Casseroles, Soups, Sauces, and Biscuit Dough. Use in Omelets, Soufflés, Quiches, Sandwich Fillings and Chicken and Turkey Stuffing. Wrap in Pie Crust or Biscuit Dough as turnovers. Add to stuffed Baked Potatoes.

This information originally appeared in the Journey Guide Patient Handbook developed by the Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospitals, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2013.

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Last Reviewed: Feb 13, 2013

Kimberly  Ortega, MS, RD, LD Kimberly Ortega, MS, RD, LD
Dietician and Oncology Specialist
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University