Frequently Asked Questions

Our patients ask us a lot of questions related to their diet and nutrition. Here are answers to a few of the ones we hear most often. We encourage you to speak to your doctors or nurse about any symptoms you have.

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1. What can I eat before and after chemotherapy? Are there any foods I should avoid?

We recommend small, regular meals that are rich in calories and other nutrients. Smaller meals may help prevent unplanned weight loss. Because food safety is very important during treatment, avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish, poultry, and unpasteurized foods and beverages. Your dietitian, nurse, or doctor will let you know if you need to follow a special diet such as the low-microbial diet. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids before and after the treatment to stay well hydrated.

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2. May I take vitamins or mineral supplements?

You should not take any multivitamins or herbal supplements during treatment. In some cases, supplements can actually be harmful and interfere with your treatment.

If you are eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods, you do not need to take a supplement. However, if you are having treatment side effects that prevent you from eating, and your body is lacking certain nutrients, your doctor may prescribe a supplement.

Learn more about vitamins and supplements from our integrative medicine team.

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3. What’s the difference between an alternative and a complementary therapy? Can I use alternative and complementary therapies during my medical treatment?

Alternative therapies are used in place of conventional treatment. The safety and effectiveness of many of these treatments have not been confirmed, but we do know that certain alternative therapies are not safe. Others can interfere with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Speak to your doctor or nurse before you start any of these treatments.

Complementary therapies can help patients cope with some of the symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, without interfering with your medical treatment. They may also help reduce stress and promote a feeling of well-being.

Learn more about the complementary therapies offered by our integrative medicine team.

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4. What can I eat when I am nauseous?

You may be able to relieve the symptoms of nausea by following these general tips:

  • Eat small meals and snacks often.
  • Drink liquids between your meals to prevent bloating, and queasiness.
  • Choose a relaxing place with a comfortable temperature to eat your meals. Avoid eating in areas with strong odors and wear comfortable clothing.
  • If nausea occurs in the early morning, try eating crackers or dry toast before getting out of bed.
  • Try eating foods that are cold or at room temperature.
  • Try fruit, crackers, yogurt and pudding.
  • Sip on liquids to stay hydrated.

Learn more about relieving nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

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5. Should I try to lose weight while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy?

No. You may need extra calories and other nutrients to help prevent unplanned weight loss. That’s because loss of appetite, nausea, and taste changes are very common side effects of cancer and some cancer treatments. Also, excessive weight loss can delay recovery and negatively affect your treatment. If you lose too much weight, your doctors may need to change your treatment plan. Before starting any type of weight loss program, you should speak with your doctor, dietitian, or nurse.

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6. Can organic foods prevent cancer?

Eating organic fruits and vegetables may help reduce your exposure to pesticides.  However, there is no scientific evidence that shows that eating organic foods will cure or prevent cancer recurrence. Choosing to eat organic food is a personal choice. Eating a well-balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables provides many health benefits such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.

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7. Is juicing OK while undergoing treatment?

Juices or smoothies can help to supplement your regular meals during treatment. If you are having difficulty swallowing solid foods, juices and smoothies may be helpful. Since juicing may not provide all the nutrients you need, it is important to speak with your doctor and dietitian.

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8. Can a vegetarian diet lower my risk for cancer?

Plant-based diets have been shown to help lower the risk of certain diseases including cancer. A strict vegetarian diet must be carefully planned so that it will have all the essential nutrients that your body needs. For example, a plant-based diet should include good sources of protein and vitamin B12, nutrients that are sometimes lacking in vegetarian diets. A dietitian can assist you with creating balanced plant-based meals.

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9. I had breast cancer. Is it safe to eat soy?

Yes. Women who have had breast cancer can eat whole soy foods, such as tofu, miso, and edamame. Some research suggests that women who eat moderate amounts of soy foods over their lifetime may have a lower risk for breast cancer and recurrence than women who never eat soy. If you eat soy foods, it is best to eat moderate portions. For example, portion sizes such as a 4-ounce piece of tofu or 8 ounces of soy milk. Avoid taking soy isoflavone supplements or concentrated forms of soy protein such as powders. There is not enough research to suggest that these are safe or beneficial.

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10. I don’t like nutritional supplement drinks, but I need to boost my calories and I am having trouble eating solid foods. What can I have?

If you have a poor appetite or feel full quickly, homemade smoothies or shakes can help you meet some of your nutrition needs. Use ingredients that you like and tolerate well.

Here are some combinations that you can try:

  • Milk, blueberries, frozen banana, and peanuts or almonds,
  • Plain yogurt with fresh cantaloupe and honey
  • Frozen strawberries, orange juice, and a quarter of an avocado
  • Pureed or blended soft foods such as cooked vegetables or beans
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower, chick peas, white beans, and beets

Add butter, olive oil, coconut milk or oil, and cream for flavor, to smooth out the texture, and to increase nutrients in any of the above.

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