Tips for diet problems

There are ways to deal with diet problems such as taste changes, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, constipation and sickness (nausea).

  • Avoid foods that taste strange to you, but try them again every few weeks as your taste may have gone back to normal.
  • Choose foods that have strong flavours if all your food tastes the same. Try adding garlic, lemon juice, herbs and spices, and marinades.
  • Marinate foods overnight or for a few hours (even 10 minutes will make a difference). Make a marinade with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and whichever herbs or spices you fancy. Add a splash of wine or some lemon juice if you like.
  • You could use a dry marinade, also called a rub. Mix up spices and herbs and slap onto uncooked meat or fish with clean hands.
  • Avoid hot (spicy) foods if you have a sore or infected mouth.
  • Gravies and bottled sauces can help to add flavours to a meal.
  • You might find you prefer stronger versions of your favourite foods such as smoked ham or bacon or strongly flavoured cheese.
  • You may want to avoid your favourite foods and drinks during chemotherapy so there is no danger of going off them for good. This is particularly useful for children.
  • Use plastic utensils if food tastes metallic. It can help to reduce the metallic taste.
  • Avoid very cold or hot foods.
  • Use chutney, pickle or relish to add flavours to food.
  • Italian dressings, sweet and sour sauce and sweet fruit juice will enhance flavours.
  • Keep your mouth clean and brush your teeth well.
  • Tart foods have a strong taste. Consider lemons, limes, oranges and gooseberries, lemon yoghurt, lemon cheesecake, orange mouse, lemon sorbet and stewed gooseberries (avoid if you have a sore mouth).

If you find you have a loss of appetite, some of the following suggestions might help.

  • Avoid filling your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating. Drink fluids after your meal.
  • Try to eat small amounts of high protein and calorie foods every 2 or 3 hours instead of 3 large meals a day. High protein foods include meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods, beans and pulses.
  • Ask friends and relatives to help prepare meals for you. Cooking your own food can sometimes put you off eating.
  • Add extra calories and protein to any food that you eat (using butter, milk, cream, sugar, honey and cheese).
  • Choose foods that appeal to your sense of smell and eat cold or slightly warm food if the smell of cooking puts you off eating.
  • Prepare and store small servings of your favourite foods ahead of time, so there is always something to eat when you feel hungry.
  • Have a stock of convenience foods in the cupboard, such as tinned soups and puddings.
  • Choose nourishing fluids. Drinks that are dairy based have more energy and protein than many other drinks such as water, tea, coffee and squash.
  • Eat puddings and desserts. Foods with fat or sugar are good sources of calories.
  • Don't be afraid to try out new foods and tastes. You may be surprised at what you like.
  • Chew food well and eat slowly.
  • With your doctor's permission, small amounts of your favourite alcoholic drink might boost your appetite.
  • Avoid getting over tired. You will find everything more difficult to cope with if you are exhausted.
  • Don't give yourself a hard time if you really don't feel like eating for a few days after treatment. It is important to drink, but you can make up for lost calories between treatments.
  • Try to focus on what you have managed to eat or drink rather than worrying about what you haven't. Keep in mind that everybody has good days and bad days.

If you are worried about losing weight, ask your doctor about high calorie meals in a drink.

You may also have a poor appetite because you feel sick.

  • Eat smaller meals and more snacks.
  • Avoid foods high in fibre such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and fruit. Also cereals such as Weetabix and bran flakes, brown bread and brown rice. Ask the dietitian at the hospital for advice if you're not sure what to eat.
  • Fibre is also in the skin of fruit and vegetables and foods with edible seeds and pips.
  • Try starchy foods which are low in fibre, such as white bread and rice, pasta, and potatoes without their skins.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe anti diarrhoea drugs.
  • Drink 8 to 10 cups of fluid each day if possible. Water, prune juice and orange juice can all help.
  • Eat foods high in fibre such as fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans and wholegrains (unless you have a blockage in your bowel).
  • Do some exercise each day, even if it is just a short walk.

Let your doctor know straight away if you have changes in your bowel habits that carry on for more than a few days.


You can make some changes in your diet that might help relieve your sickness. It might help to avoid:

  • eating or preparing food when you feel sick
  • fried foods, fatty foods or foods with a strong smell
  • brushing your teeth just after eating
  • filling your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating
  • too much activity straight after eating
  • mixing hot and cold foods

Changing what you eat might help you feel better. You could try eating:

  • cold or slightly warm food if the smell of cooked or cooking food makes you feel sick
  • several small meals and snacks each day and chew your food well
  • light, bland foods, such as plain toast or crackers
  • small meals a few hours before treatment (but not just before)
  • fresh or tinned pineapple chunks which helps to keep your mouth fresh and moist

It's important to try to drink plenty to replace the fluid you've lost, even if you can't eat. Have small sips slowly throughout the day. Try drinking:

  • clear, sweet liquids, like fizzy drinks or fruit juice (except orange or grapefruit juice, which may irritate your stomach)
  • ice cold or clear fluids


Researchers have been looking at using ginger to help with nausea caused by chemotherapy. They did a systematic review Open a glossary item of studies in 2019. The researchers found that ginger might help with nausea caused by chemotherapy. But we need better quality studies to confirm its effect.


Some people find that peppermint helps with sickness. It is thought that it helps to slow down the gut. You can suck on mints or drink peppermint tea.

Last reviewed: 
26 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
27 Mar 2023
  • Nutrition and Cancer
    Edited by Clare Shaw
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

  • Quality standard for nutrition support in adults (QS24)

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2012

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser D
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Efficacy of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in Ameliorating Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting and Chemotherapy-Related Outcomes: A Systematic Review Update and Meta-Analysis

    M Crichton and others

    Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2019, Volume 119, Issue 12, 2055 - 2068

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

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