We are what we eat

This information will help you get the nutrients you need during your skin cancer treatment.
Good nutrition is very important for people with cancer. There may be some changes you can make now that will help you during treatment. Start by following a healthy diet. This can make you stronger, help you maintain (stay at) a healthy weight, and help you fight infection. It may even help you prevent or manage some side effects of treatment.
Once you start treatment, it may become hard to follow your usual diet. You may need to liberalize your diet (add different types of foods and drinks) to get the nutrition you need. There currently isn’t enough research to know that restrictive diets (diets that avoid certain foods or nutrients) are safe for people who have cancer.

The most important thing is to make sure you get the calories and protein you need to keep your body strong during your treatment. Because of that, some of the information in this resource may seem very different from diet guidelines you usually follow. If you have questions, talk with your clinical dietitian nutritionist.

General Nutritional Guidelines

Dietary supplements include vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.
You can get all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet. But taking a low-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement can help if you’re having trouble following a balanced diet. A low-dose supplement is one that doesn’t have more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of any vitamin or mineral.

There currently isn’t enough research to know that taking large amounts of antioxidants, herbs, or extra vitamins and minerals helps treat or cure cancer. Depending on your specific cancer treatment, taking too much of a dietary supplement can actually harm you or change the way your treatment works.
If you’re thinking about taking any dietary supplements, talk with your doctor first. A clinical dietitian nutritionist or pharmacist can also answer your questions.

Food safety

During cancer treatment, your body has a hard time fighting off infection. It’s more important than ever to make sure that the foods you’re eating are safe. This will lower your risk for foodborne illnesses and other infections. For more information and tips, read the resource Food Safety During Cancer Treatment.

Staying hydrated

It’s very important to stay hydrated (get enough liquids) during your cancer treatment. You can hydrate with liquids other than water. Examples are listed in the table below.

Getting Calories and Protein

During your treatment, your clinical dietitian nutritionist may recommend certain foods to help you get more calories, get more protein, or eat more comfortably. Some of these foods may seem like less healthy choices. It’s important to remember that you will only be eating this way for a short while. Once your side effects go away and your appetite goes back to normal, you can stop eating foods you feel are unhealthy. Your clinical dietitian nutritionist can help you find an eating plan that works best for you.

Tips for eating and drinking enough

During treatment, you may have good days and bad days when it comes to eating. Large meals can seem overwhelming or unappealing. This can happen when you have a decreased appetite (want to eat less than usual) or early satiety (feel full shortly after you start eating).
The suggestions below can help you get the most from your meals.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. For example, have 6 to 8 meals a day instead of 3 main meals.
  • Eat every few hours. Don’t wait until you feel hungry.
  • Serve smaller food portions on salad plates instead of dinner plates.
  • Drink hot chocolate, fruit juices, and nectars that are high in calories.
  • Avoid low-calorie drinks (such as water, coffee, tea, and diet drinks). Make Double Milk and milkshakes using the recipes in the “Recipes” section.
  • Have your favorite snack foods available at home, on the go, and at work.
  • Eat your favorite foods at any time of the day. For example, eat breakfast foods (such as pancakes or omelets) for lunch or dinner.
  • Include different colors and textures of foods in your meals to make them more appealing.
  • Make dining a good experience by eating your meals in a pleasant, relaxing setting with family or friends.
  • Make food that smells good (such as baking bread or frying bacon).

Tips for adding more protein to your diet

Your body needs a balance of calories and protein to work best. Your doctor or clinical dietitian nutritionist may tell you to temporarily increase the amount of protein in your diet. If you recently had surgery or have wounds, eating more protein will help you heal. The suggestions below will help you increase the amount of protein in your diet.
  • Eat foods rich in protein (such as chicken, fish, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, nuts or nut butters, and soy foods).
  • Drink Double Milk and use it in recipes that call for milk or water (such as instant pudding, cocoa, omelets, and pancake mixes). To make Double Milk, mix 1 envelope (about 1 cup) of non-fat dry milk powder and 1 quart of whole milk in a blender. Store it in the refrigerator.
  • Use Double Milk or ready-to-drink nutritional supplements in hot or cold cereals.
  • Add cheese and diced, cooked meats to your omelets or quiches.
  • Add unflavored protein powder to creamy soups, mashed potatoes, shakes, and casseroles.
  • Snack on cheese or nut butters (such as peanut butter, cashew butter, and almond butter) with crackers.
  • Spread nut butters on apples, bananas, or celery.
  • Try apple slices with cheese wedges and honey drizzled on top.
  • Blend a nut butter into your shakes or smoothies.
  • Snack on nuts, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.
  • Add nuts and seeds to breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, and waffles.
  • Try hummus with pita bread. Use hummus as a spread on sandwiches or add a spoonful to your salad.
  • Add cooked meats to soups, casseroles, and salads.
  • Add wheat germ, ground nuts, chia seeds, or ground flax seeds to cereals, casseroles, and yogurt.
  • Choose Greek style yogurts over regular yogurt.
  • Eat desserts made with eggs (such as pound cake, puddings, custards, and cheesecakes).
  • Add extra eggs or egg whites to custards, puddings, quiches, pancake batter, French toast egg wash, scrambled eggs, or omelets.
  • Add grated cheese to sauces, vegetables, and soups. You can also add it to baked or mashed potatoes, casseroles, and salads.
  • Add cottage cheese or ricotta cheese to casseroles, pasta dishes, or egg dishes.
  • Melt cheese on hamburgers and breaded cutlets.
  • Add chickpeas, kidney beans, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, seeds, and cooked meats or fish to your salads.
  • Use pasteurized bone broth for soups and stews.

Tips for adding more calories to your diet

The suggestions below can help you eat more calories. They may seem to go against what you already know about healthy eating. But during your treatment and while you’re healing, the most important thing is that you get enough calories and protein.
  • Avoid food and drink labels that say “low-fat,” “non-fat,” or “diet.” For example, use whole milk instead of skim.
  • Snack on dried fruits, nuts, or dried seeds. Add them to hot cereals, ice cream, or salads.
  • Drink fruit nectars or fruit shakes.
  • Add butter, ghee, or oils to potatoes, rice, and pasta. Also add them to cooked vegetables, sandwiches, toast, and hot cereals.
  • Add cream cheese or nut butters to toast or bagels or use it as a spread on vegetables.
  • Spread cream cheese, jam, and peanut butter on crackers.
  • Add jelly or honey to breads and crackers.
  • Mix jam with diced fruit and use it as a topping over ice cream or cake.
  • Snack on tortilla chips with guacamole or sour cream dips.
  • Use high-calorie dressings on salads, baked potatoes, and vegetables (such as green beans or asparagus).
  • Add sour cream, coconut milk, half and half, or heavy cream to mashed potatoes, cake, and cookie recipes. You can also add it to pancake batter, sauces, gravies, soups, and casseroles.
  • Top baked potatoes with cheese or sour cream.
  • Top cakes, waffles, French toast, fruits, puddings, and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
  • Make vegetables or pasta with cream sauces or drizzle olive oil over these foods before eating.
  • Use mayonnaise, creamy salad dressing, or aioli sauce in salads, sandwiches, and vegetable dips.
  • Mix granola with yogurt or put it on top of ice cream or fruits. Use granola in cookie, muffin, and bread batters.
  • Top your ice cream or unfrosted cakes with sweetened condensed milk. Combine the condensed milk with peanut butter to add more calories and flavor.
  • Add croutons to your salads.
  • Include stuffing as a side dish with your meals.
  • Drink homemade shakes. Try the shake recipes in the “Recipes” section. You can also drink high-calorie, high-protein drinks.
  • Add avocado to smoothies, soups, salads, omelets, and as a spread on toast.
  • Add mayonnaise or sour cream to salads (such as tuna or egg salad) or use it as a spread on sandwiches.
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