Managing side-effects through diet

Chemotherapy drugs can affect your appetite in so many ways. Some people only experience side-effects briefly or temporarily, others may be affected more seriously and really struggle to enjoy their food.

Chemotherapy can affect your sense of taste and smell, making you much more sensitive to strong smells and distorting tastes so everything tastes the same or is tainted with a metallic taste. In addition, the treatment may make your mouth and throat sore, and perhaps sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks. Anything that affects your ability to swallow can make you nervous about eating; nausea and the effort of being sick can also be exhausting.

If you have nausea and vomiting

  • try eating dry food such as toast or crackers first thing in the morning
  • eat small, frequent meals drink plenty of fluids
  • chilled food and drinks may help
  • avoid greasy, fatty or fried foods
  • ginger can help – try tea or biscuits, root ginger in syrup, ginger ale
  • sip fizzy drinks, such as ginger beer, soda, water or lemonade
  • sit upright and avoid lying flat after meals.

If you have a sore mouth

  • drink plenty of nourishing fluids, such as fruit smoothies or milkshakes
  • have cold foods and drinks such as ice cream, jellies and crushed ice
  • drink through a straw
  • avoid salty or spiced foods
  • avoid rough textured food such as toast
  • keep your mouth clean, using mouthwash
  • if gums are sore, use a ‘soft’ bristled toothbrush
  • avoid very hot food or drink.

If you have a dry mouth

  • take frequent sips of drinks
  • try sucking ice lollies or ice cubes
  • chewing gum and sucking sweets can stimulate saliva
  • add gravy and sauce to foods
  • avoid sticky or dry foods such as pastry – they can stick to the top of your mouth and make swallowing difficult
  • there are a number of pastilles, gels and sprays to stimulate saliva – available from a pharmacy or on prescription
  • try sharp flavoured foods such as lemon, lime, pineapple juice, tinned fruit (avoid these foods if the inside of your mouth is sore).