Cancer Center
Healthy Diet & Nutrition

Cancer Patients: Eating Well During The Holidays

You’re heading into the usual round of holiday feasts with a feeling of anxiety, maybe even dread, not because you’re afraid of putting on a few pounds, but because you’re undergoing treatment for cancer and have no interest in food.

Or maybe you’re hosting the party this year, and you’ll have a friend or family member at your table who is undergoing treatment. You’re wondering how best to accommodate his or her appetite or culinary needs.

While food still may not taste as good to you as it did pre-cancer, good nutrition is more important to your body now than ever. Eating well and eating enough can help with everything from withstanding side effects to healing and recovering more quickly to lowering your risk of infection to simply feeling better and stronger. The following tips can help you to enjoy food this holiday season and beyond.

•    Use plastic utensils in place of silverware to lessen the metallic taste in your mouth. Chemotherapy kills cells in your mouth that create saliva. The absence of saliva is what creates the metallic taste, made worse by using silverware. Don’t want the cheap looking white plastic at your fancy table? It also comes in a silver color.

•    Marinating meat, poultry, and fish in sweet sauces can also cut the metallic taste.

•    Be open to trying new foods or those you’ve not liked in the past. Treatment does a number on your taste buds. Just because one of your favorites – say, sweet potato casserole – has lost its appeal, the Brussels sprouts you’ve never liked may actually hit the spot!

•    A sweet treat this time of year is a cranberry sorbet, found at specialty grocers, or you can make it yourself. Recipes can include orange and lemon juice, even a touch of ginger, all of which often taste good when you’re undergoing treatment and are good for you, too. For fun, serve it mid-meal in a wine or martini glass as a palate cleanser.

•    Cold and room temperature (or warm) foods are likely to taste better to you than hot foods. You don’t have to avoid the hot food; just let it cool down before you dig in.

•    The best beverage on the menu is water, lots and lots of water, because chemo and radiation therapies dehydrate the body. If you have trouble downing a lot of plain water, try infusing it with herbs or fruit to make it more appealing. Staying hydrated is one of the simplest and best things you can do for yourself.

•    Still don’t feel like eating? Bring a nutritional shake or two (such as Ensure, Boost, or NutraPrime) with you to the party so your energy doesn’t flag, and you’re getting the nutrition that you need.

St. Louis writer Donna Heckler, a breast-cancer survivor, provides more practical tips on living your best life while living through cancer in her new book “Living Like A Lady When You Have Cancer,” available from

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