What to put on your grocery list

April 26, 2023 | by Doreen Berard, RD, LDN

You probably already know which aisles to find your favorite foods at the grocery store, but during cancer treatment, your shopping list may change.

Cancer and cancer treatment can affect the way your body tolerates certain foods and uses nutrients. It can also change how food tastes and smells, lower your appetite or make you feel queasy.

Because we are all different, the side effects from treatment vary from person to person. Eating the right kinds of food can give your body the nutrients it needs to stay strong and fight the disease.

First, ask your medical team about how to maintain a healthy diet during cancer treatment. Then, consider adding these items to your grocery list as tolerated based on symptoms:

  • Good sources of protein to help your tissues heal, maintain strength and lean tissue mass and help you fight infection. Try lean fish, lean chicken or turkey, eggs, low-fat dairy products and nut butters, dried beans and chickpeas.

  • Certain fats and oils to provide energy for your body. Just make sure to eat the right kinds, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including avocados, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon. Avoid eating trans or saturated fats, including processed foods and fried or greasy foods cooked in hydrogenated vegetable oil, coconut oil or palm oil.

  • A good carbohydrate source to give your body the fuel it needs for activity and organ function. Choose whole grains found in cereal, bread and flours. You can also shop for sweet potatoes, wild or brown rice, whole grain pasta, beans and lentils. Try to eat more veggies and fruits too.

  • Bottled water and other caffeine free fluids to stay hydrated. Don’t wait to drink fluids when thirsty but rather drink it regularly throughout the day. You can also eat foods that contain water and help replenish lost fluids, such as lettuce, watermelon, broccoli, soups, popsicles and yogurt. If you don’t like water, try sipping clear liquids like broth, sport drinks and juice.

The American Cancer Society offers more healthy items to have in your cupboard, refrigerator and freezer.

Just as there foods you should eat during treatment, there are also foods you should avoid to reduce your risk of food poisoning. Pay attention to the labels, follow good food washing techniques, and keep these foods off your shopping list:

  • Cold hot dogs or other packaged meats (If you must eat, always cook or reheat them until the meat is steaming hot)
  • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, such as blue-veined (a type of blue cheese), Brie, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, and queso fresco/blanco
  • Deli-prepared salads with egg, ham, chicken or seafood
  • Unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy vegetables that can hide dirt and other contaminants
  • Unpasteurized fruit juice or cider
  • Undercooked eggs, such as soft boiled, over easy and poached
  • Raw, unpasteurized eggs or foods made with raw egg, such as homemade raw cookie dough

Need a good recipe? Try making a yummy sherbet shake, tangy protein smoothie or homemade soup.

Learn more about eating healthy during cancer treatment.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.


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