Why is Good Nutrition Important for a Patient with Cancer and What Types of Food Should Be Consumed During Treatment?

Cancer Q&A

By Jennifer Wolfshohl, RD, CSO, LD

Good nutrition is important for everyone, but especially for those undergoing cancer treatments. Cancer itself, as well as its treatments, may affect a patient’s appetite. Treatments also may change your body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and use certain nutrients. Eating well while undergoing treatment can help you:

  • Tolerate side effects
  • Heal and recover more quickly
  • Keep up your strength and energy
  • Maintain weight
  • Keep your immune system strong
  • Feel better

Eating well means choosing a variety of foods that provide the nutrients you need to maintain your health while fighting cancer. These nutrients include protein, fluids, carbohydrates and fats, and vitamins and minerals. Here’s why they’re important:

Jennifer Wolfshohl, RD, LD
Jennifer Wolfshohl, RD, CSO, LD
  • Protein is needed for growth, maintaining your immune system, and repair of body tissue. If you are not eating enough protein, your body may take longer to heal from illness and have a lower resistance to infection. People with cancer often need more protein than usual. Good sources of protein include lean meat, chicken, fish, beans, nuts, and dairy products.
  • It is very important to drink plenty of fluids during your cancer treatment. To meet your fluid needs, you need to drink even if you are not feeling thirsty. Try to drink eight to 10 cups (64-80 ounces) of clear fluids each day. Good choices of fluids include water, juice, club soda, non-caffeinated soft drinks, clear soups, and popsicles. 
  • Carbohydrates and fats are the body’s main source of energy. Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, cereals, pasta, and rice. Good sources of fats include olive oil, seeds, nuts, and avocados, as well as butter, margarine, and fats found in meats, fish, and chicken.
  • Vitamins and minerals are necessary for growth and development. The body uses these to obtain energy from food. Eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods is a good way to get plenty of vitamins and minerals.  

Until your treatment starts, you may not know exactly what, if any, side effects you may have or how you will feel. Dietitians at Simmons Cancer Center are available to our patients to help guide you toward the best nutrition for your situation.