Cancer treatments and medicines can cause your bowels to move much more often and become very loose. Three or more loose or watery stools a day is called diarrhea. Uncontrolled diarrhea can lead to fluid loss (dehydration), weight loss, poor appetite, and weakness.

Avoid high-fiber foods, which might make diarrhea worse. These include nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), dried fruits, and raw fruits and vegetables. You should avoid high-fat foods, like fried and greasy foods, too, because they can also make diarrhea worse. After stomach or bowel surgery, some people may be sensitive to very sweet or high-carbohydrate foods as well. Stay away from gassy foods and carbonated drinks, too. Be sure to sip fluids during the day to prevent dehydration. Once the diarrhea has stopped, slowly start eating foods with fiber.

What to do

  • Drink plenty of mild, clear, non-carbonated liquids during the day. Drink liquids at room temperature. This may be easier to take than very hot or cold drinks.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks during the day.
  • Avoid greasy, fried, spicy, or very sweet foods.
  • Limit milk or milk products to 2 cups a day. Yogurt and buttermilk are OK.
  • Avoid drinks and foods that cause gas, like carbonated drinks, gas-forming vegetables, and chewing gum. (A list of foods that might cause gas is in the section on constipation.) Allow carbonated drinks to become slightly “flat” before drinking by pouring them into a glass and letting them sit at least 10 minutes.
  • Drink and eat high-sodium (salt) foods like broths, soups, sports drinks, crackers, and pretzels.
  • Drink and eat high-potassium foods like fruit juices and nectars, sports drinks, potatoes with the skin, and bananas.
  • Increase soluble-fiber foods like applesauce, bananas, canned peaches and pears, oats or oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.
  • Drink at least 1 cup of liquid after each loose bowel movement. Try water, sports drinks, or bouillon.
  • Do not chew sugar-free gum or eat candies and desserts made with sugar alcohol (i.e., sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol).
  • Call your cancer care team if diarrhea continues or increases, or if your stools have an unusual odor or color.

What to eat or not eat when you have diarrhea*

  Eat Foods that may cause problems
High protein

    Baked or broiled beef, pork, chicken, turkey, veal, fish

    Eggs, buttermilk, cheese, yogurt

    Fried meats, high-fat cuts of meats, meats with gristle

    Dairy products other than buttermilk or yogurt

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Bread, rolls, and pasta made from refined, white flour; converted or instant rice

    Refined cereals like farina, Cream of Wheat, Cream of Rice, oatmeal, cornflakes

    Pancakes, waffles, cornbread, muffins, graham crackers

    Whole-grain breads and cereals like whole wheat, oat, and rye; bran

    Shredded wheat


    Wild rice

Fruits and vegetables

    Soups made with vegetables listed here: cooked asparagus tips, beets, carrots, peeled zucchini, mushrooms, celery

    Tomato paste, tomato puree, tomato sauce

    Baked potato without skin

    Canned, frozen, or fresh fruit

    Fresh, unpeeled fruit; pears; melon

    All other vegetables

Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Butter, margarine

    Mayonnaise, salad dressing, vegetable oil

    Cake, cookies, flavored gelatin desserts, sherbet

    Decaffeinated beverages

    Salt, pepper, spices, and gravy as tolerated

    Desserts with nuts

    Coconut, dried fruit

    Chocolate, licorice



    Foods with a lot of pepper, chili seasoning, or taco seasoning; hot sauces

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

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 journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: July 15, 2015 Last Revised: July 15, 2015

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