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Survivorship: During and After Treatment

Eating Well During Treatment

Try to eat well. A healthy diet helps your body  function at its best. This is even more important if you have cancer. You’ll go into treatment with reserves to help keep up your strength, your energy level, and your defenses against infection. A healthy diet can also prevent body tissue from breaking down and build new tissues. People who eat well are better able to cope with side effects of treatment. And you may even be able to handle higher doses of certain drugs. In fact, some cancer treatments work better in people who are well-nourished and are getting enough calories and protein. Try these tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new foods. Some things you never have liked before might taste good during treatment.
  • Choose different plant-based foods. Try eating beans and peas instead of meat at a few meals each week.
  • Try to eat more fruits and vegetables every day in a variety of colors. Colorful vegetables and fruits and plant-based foods have many natural health-promoting substances.
  • Try to stay at a healthy weight, and stay physically active. Small weight changes during treatment are normal.
  • Limit or avoid red or processed meats, sugar sweetened beverages and processed foods.

If you can’t do any of the above during this time, don’t worry about it. Tell your cancer care team about any problems you have and ask if there is a dietician or nutritionist you could speak to. Sometimes diet changes are needed to get the extra fluids, protein, and calories you need.

Snack as needed

During cancer treatment your body often needs extra calories and protein to help you maintain your weight and heal as quickly as possible. If you’re losing weight, snacks can help you meet those needs, keep up your strength and energy level, and help you feel better. During treatment you may have to rely on snacks that are less healthy sources of calories to meet your needs. Keep in mind that this is just for a short while – once side effects go away you can return to a healthier diet. Try these tips to make it easier to add snacks to your daily routine:

  • Eat small snacks throughout the day.
  • Keep a variety of protein-rich snacks on hand that are easy to prepare and eat. These include yogurt, cereal and milk, half a sandwich, a bowl of hearty soup, and cheese and crackers.
  • Avoid snacks that might make any treatment-related side effects worse. If you have diarrhea, for example, avoid popcorn and raw fruits and vegetables. If you have a sore throat, do not eat dry, coarse snacks or acidic foods.

If you’re able to eat normally and maintain your weight without snacks, then don’t include them.

Some quick-and-easy snacks

  • Cereal (hot or cold)
  • Cheese (aged or hard cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and more)
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Dips made with cheese, beans, yogurt, or peanut butter
  • Fruit (fresh, frozen, canned, dried)
  • Gelatin made with juice, milk, or fruit
  • Granola or trail mix
  • Homemade milk shakes and smoothies
  • Ice cream, sherbet, and frozen yogurt
  • Juices
  • Microwave snacks
  • Milk by itself, flavored, or with instant breakfast powder
  • Muffins
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Popcorn, pretzels
  • Puddings, custards
  • Sandwiches (such as egg salad, grilled cheese, or peanut butter)
  • Soups
  • Sports drinks
  • Vegetables (raw or cooked) with olive oil, dressing, or sauce
  • Yogurt (low fat or Greek)

Tips to get more calories and protein

  • Eat several small snacks throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals.
  • Eat your largest meal when you are hungriest, not matter the time of day.
  • Eat your favorite foods at any time of the day. For instance, eat breakfast foods for dinner if they appeal to you.
  • Eat every few hours. Don’t wait until you feel hungry.
  • Eat your biggest meal when you feel hungriest. For example, if you are most hungry in the morning, make breakfast your biggest meal.
  • Try to eat high-calorie, high-protein foods at each meal and snack.
  • Exercise lightly or take a walk before meals to increase your appetite.
  • Drink high-calorie, high-protein beverages like milk shakes and canned liquid supplements.
  • Drink most of your fluids between meals instead of with meals. Drinking fluid with meals can make you feel too full.
  • Try homemade or commercially prepared nutrition bars and puddings.

High-protein foods*

Milk products

  • Eat cheese on toast or with crackers.
  • Add grated cheese to baked potatoes, vegetables, soups, noodles, meat, and fruit.
  • Use milk in place of water for hot cereal and soups.
  • Include cream or cheese sauces on vegetables and pasta.
  • Add powdered milk to cream soups, mashed potatoes, puddings, and casseroles.
  • Add Greek yogurt, powdered whey protein, or cottage cheese to favorite fruits or blended smoothies.


  • Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator. Chop and add to salads, casseroles, soups, and vegetables. Make a quick egg salad.
  • All eggs should be well-cooked to avoid the risk of harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurized egg substitute is a low-fat alternative to regular eggs.

Meats, poultry, and fish

  • Add cooked meats to soups, casseroles, salads, and omelets.
  • Mix diced or flaked cooked meat with sour cream and spices to make dip.

Beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds

  • Sprinkle seeds or nuts on desserts like fruit, ice cream, pudding, and custard. Also serve on vegetables, salads, and pasta.
  • Spread peanut or almond butter on toast and fruit or blend in a milk shake.

High-calorie foods*


  • Melt over potatoes, rice, pasta, and cooked vegetables.
  • Stir melted butter into soups and casseroles and spread on bread before adding other ingredients to your sandwich.

Milk products

  • Add whipping or heavy cream to desserts, pancakes, waffles, fruit, and hot chocolate; fold it into soups and casseroles.
  • Add sour cream to baked potatoes and vegetables.

Salad dressings

  • Use regular (not low-fat or diet) mayonnaise and salad dressing on sandwiches and as dips with vegetables and fruit.


  • Add jelly and honey to bread and crackers.
  • Add jam to fruit.
  • Use ice cream as a topping on cake.

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.

Don’t forget about physical activity

Physical activity has many benefits. It helps you maintain muscle mass, strength, stamina, and bone strength. It can help reduce depression, stress, fatigue, nausea, and constipation. It can also improve your appetite. So, if you don’t already exercise, talk to your doctor about aiming for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity, like walking, each week. If your doctor approves, start small (maybe 5 to 10 minutes each day) and as you are able, work up to the goal of 300 minutes a week. Listen to your body, and rest when you need to. Do what you can when you’re up to it.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Cancer Institute. Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ) - Health Professional Version. March 3, 2022. Updated Accessed at on March 14, 2022. 

Rock CL, Thomson CA, Sullivan KR, et al. American Cancer Society nutrition and physical activity guideline for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2022. Accessed at on March 16, 2022. 

Last Revised: March 16, 2022

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