Foods You Should Eat While Having Radiotherapy

Radiation treatment has many adverse effects including extreme loss of weight as well as dehydration. This gets even worse when a patient is undergoing radiation treatment for neck or head cancers. To mitigate these negative effects, and maintain healthy weight, you need to eat foods that will provide your body with as many nutrients as possible.

Foods to Eat During Radiation Treatment

Because radiation treatment damages both cancerous and healthy body cells, you need to eat foods that are nutrient-dense in order to provide raw materials to repair the damage and aid recovery. This cannot be provided by eating foods high in calories but low in nutrients. Such foods only provide energy without addressing the critical needs of the body. Continued intake of such foods leads to slow recovery. On the other hand, nutrient- dense foods are fresh, wholesome and come in as many colors as possible. Following are some great foods to eat during radiation treatment:

Fruits and Vegetables

Go for a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in as many colors as possible such as dark green, orange, red, as well as peas and beans. By making vegetables and fruits your most important foods, you will provide your body with a wide variety of micronutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Vegetables and fruits are even more potent when eaten raw. However, if you are unable to eat some of them raw, have them steamed in low heat.

Fat-Free or Low-Fat (1%) Milk and Milk Products

Taking milk and other dairy products including yogurt and cheese provides healthy amounts of calcium and potassium besides other nutrients. In case you don’t take dairy, try almond or coconut milk.

Whole Grains

Include whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain breads. Get quinoa if you can. Whole grain quinoa contains high amounts of protein, is gluten-free and can substitute for wheat and rice.

Lean Proteins

Choose lean protein foods such as lean beef, lean poultry, seafood, eggs, Greek yogurts, beans, unsalted seeds and nuts. Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods whenever possible.

Take Lots of Liquids

Take lots of water and other fluids throughout the day. You can even add water to soups, shakes and teas. Drinking fluids through the day keeps you hydrated. It is even more important if you get diarrhea when undergoing radiation treatment. Make sure that you have a bottle full of water wherever you go. And keep drinking the water.

Remember that understanding the language of your body, being prepared, taking nutrient- dense foods, fixing your personal mealtimes and taking lots of water and fluids will help your body recover faster. These rules and foods to eat during radiation treatment will help maintain a healthy body during treatment and recovery phases.

Foods to Avoid or Reduce

You need to avoid or at least reduce your intake foods and food items like alcohol, salt (sodium chloride), hydrogenated fats and added sugars. However, you still need to eat some salt to maintain good health. Discuss with your care provider or nutritionist to find out how much salt to take.

Break the Rules

To ensure that you are choosing the best foods to eat during radiation treatment, you may need to break the ordinary diet rules. Make new rules to serve your purpose. In case you are having side effects, eat many small meals spread throughout the day. It makes more sense to eat five or six small meals instead of three large meals. Note also that chewing food slowly improves its digestion.

Besides the size of the meals, change the timings so that you fit in your five or six meals in a day. It’s no use to force yourself to eat at the normal breakfast or lunch time. Eat whatever you feel like eating no matter the timing and provided it is wholesome and rich in the essential nutrients. For instance, it is okay to eat baked chicken, broth and rice for breakfast.

How to Cope with the Side Effects with Diet Changes

Radiation treatment side effects can occur and make food and drink intake difficult. The following are some of the side effects and tips on how to manage them:

Dry Mouth     

  • Moisten your foods using gravies or sauces.
  • Pick softer meals such as casseroles and stews.
  • Sip on water and other fluids throughout the day, including at meal times.
  • Follow a regular oral healthcare routine as per the guidelines of your healthcare professionals.
  • Contact your healthcare team about dry mouth products. 
  • Keep off of dehydrating drinks such as alcohol and soda.
  • Suck on sugar-free gum to stimulate increased saliva production.

Thick Saliva     

  • Carry out regular oral care routine especially after meals. Use water with bicarbonate or salt.  
  • Take some soda water.
  • Using a nebuliser can help reduce the viscosity of saliva. Make sure that you discuss this with your healthcare providers first.

Mouth Sores or Sore Throat

  • Take the prescribed pain medications. 
  • Puree food or soften it and avoid crunchy or hard foods.
  • Take nutritious drinks such as fresh juice, milk and nutrition-rich supplements.
  • You may need to use a straw so that the drink bypasses the mouth. Discuss this with the healthcare team to find out if this is okay.
  • Do not take alcohol, spices, spices, extremely hot or cold drinks salty foods, tomato and citrus based foods. You should also avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.

Poor Appetite         

  • It is important that you don’t wait to have an appetite in order to eat. Instead, try to eat may small approximately at intervals of two to three hours.

Taste Change

  • In case you are unable to distinguish tastes, add some seasoning, herbs and flavorings to your meals.
  • In case your ability to taste has changed, choose bland foods and carry out a mouth wash before taking a meal. You may also chew gum or use mint to freshen your mouth.

In the event that you experience problems when swallowing or you choke or cough when eating or drinking, consult a healthcare provider without delay.

A Recommended Sample Menu

Following is a day’s sample of foods to eat during radiation treatment:


  • 1 cup of oatmeal with 8 ounces of whole milk, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon butter ( provides 415calories and 14grams protein)
  • 4oz Ensure/ Boost  Plus (180calories, 7grams protein)


  • 4oz pudding that includes whole milk (provides 150calories and 4grams protein)
  • 4oz Ensure/ Boost  Plus (180calories, 7grams protein)


  • 1cup of cheese with 1/2cup of mandarin oranges similar fruit (provides 260 calories and 28grams protein)
  • 2scrambled eggs with 1tablespoon butter or oil (provides 280calories and 14grams protein)


  • 1/2cup of canned fruit, heavy syrup together with 2tablespoon heavy or whipped cream (provides 280calories)
  • 8oz Ensure/ Boost  Plus (360calories, 15grams protein)


  • 1cup chicken soup, 1tablespoon added oil, and 1 – 2tablespoons protein powder or milk powder (provides 250calories and 7.5grams protein)
  • 8oz Ensure/ Boost  Plus (360calories, 14grams protein)


  • 1/2cup ice- cream - premium(e.g. Haagen- Dazs), 1tablespoon chocolate syrup (provides 300calories and 5grams protein)
  • 8oz whole milk (150calories and 8grams protein)
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