As folks who have made it through chemotherapy and come out the other side can attest, some cancer treatments can change your body’s response to food. In addition to nausea, you may experience mouth sores, difficulty swallowing and diarrhea. You might also lose the ability to enjoy foods you love because everything tastes different.
These eight chemo hacks can help you ease some symptoms and bring back taste:
- Fight nausea with ginger, which is a natural anti-nauseant, says Mary-Eve Brown, a dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Sip ginger ale, brew ginger tea or eat ginger chews. Instead of three big square meals, eat small amounts of food throughout the day. Eat cold foods. Some survivors report that beet juice, broccoli and baked chicken are especially beneficial against nausea brought on by chemo.
- Soothe mouth sores from chemo or radiation by rinsing your mouth every three hours with a salt, baking soda and water mix (1 cup warm water, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda). Eat soft, moist foods such as applesauce, baked (or refried) beans, cottage cheese, eggs, oatmeal, pudding and yogurt. Try applying cold, already-brewed tea bags to the sores. Drink your nutrition.
- Eleviate dry mouth by dipping food in soup. Take small sips of a drink throughout your meal. A good drink to try: club soda.
- Combat diarrhea by avoiding fiber, fat and spicy foods. Brown suggests easy-to-digest foods, like baked potato, bananas andcooked carrots. Stay hydrated, since diarrhea can make you dehyrdrated. How much hydration is enough? Brown’s formula: your weight divided by 2.2; “that is your hydration level in ounces,” she says.
- Aid swallowing difficulties by adding high-calorie ingredients like nut butters, avocado or oils to blended foods. When each bite or sip causes trouble, make every bite count.
- Reduce constipation with magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, halibut and spinach. Try to stay active; physical activity can help you move your bowels.
- Boost altered taste buds by finding a taste sensation you most enjoy. “If it’s sweet, make smoothies or eat fruit,” Brown says. “Marinate foods in fruit juices or add fruit to your dish.” Give completely new foods a try. That way, your favorite roast chicken dish won’t disappoint when it doesn’t taste like your favorite roast chicken dish. Experiment with sweet potato soups or carrot-ginger recipes. To avoid the metallic tastes in food, switch to plastic utensils. Add lemon and maple syrup to water or drink through a straw. If everything tastes like cardboard, reach for the sea salt.
- Avoid weight loss by drinking caffeine-free liquids and fortified milk, fruit and veggie juices, smoothies and milkshakes. Snack on nuts, dried fruit, cheese, nut butters, fruit muffins and breads. “All are nutritionally dense,” Brown says. “Your body is burning more calories and more protein while you’re on chemo.”
And keep these bonus chemo hacks in mind: During treatment avoid runny eggs and raw fish to reduce the risk of salmonella. After therapy, start a “prevention diet”: unprocessed plant-based foods; whole grains; high-fiber foods, low-saturated fat foods, plenty of vegetables (“At least 2.5 cups per day, and don’t eat the same color veggies over and over,” Brown says); and lean meats, such as loin or round, white-meat poultry and fish. Give up processed meats; this means goodbye hot dogs, bacon and sausage. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about resuming supplements about seven weeks after treatment ends.