What to eat when you have cancer

By: Vanessa Chris, Nov 03, 2010

Simple steps to help you choose the right foods while undergoing cancer treatments

Eating is often the last thing patients feel like doing when undergoing cancer treatment, never mind cooking healthy, well-balanced meals.

Depending on the type of cancer treatment, many individuals end up feeling fatigued, nauseous or prone to gastrointestinal distress. Certain foods can end up tasting different – sometimes too sweet, too metallic or completely flavourless – and if the cancer treatment is focused on the mouth or throat, chewing and swallowing can be extremely painful. Occasionally, an individual's appetite just diminishes, and along with it, the motivation to make healthy meals.

Weight loss, nutrient deficiencies and dehydration are all side effects of poor eating habits – and can prevent the body from successfully maintaining strength, fighting off infection, withstanding treatment and recovering more quickly. That's why it's important to experiment with different foods and potentially do away with caloric or food restrictions to ensure you're getting as many nutrients as possible.

Simple steps like adding different sauces or marinades can improve the taste of a certain food. Other times, you may have to try something completely different. For example, if meat is tasting strange, opt for a different type of protein, like beans or tofu.

Investing in a recipe book for cancer patients, such as Goes Down Easy: Recipes to Help you Cope with the Challenges of Eating During Cancer Treatment, will offer fresh ideas and interesting alternatives to your typical fare. Written by six dieticians at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, the book addresses the side effects of cancer treatment and offers recipes that are easy for patients with varying levels of cooking experience, financial constraints, time constraints, fatigue and physical limitations. They are also organized according to symptom, to make them easy to find.

If all else fails, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietician. These professionals will be able to suggest dietary alternatives and identify potential problems with your current diet.

Cancer-friendly recipes

Tofu Tiramisù

Silken tofu and meringue powder replace mascarpone and raw egg whites in this
take on tiramisù. No one will guess tofu is in this creamy Italian classic.


  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp meringue powder (or equivalent to 2 egg whites)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 package (300 g) silken soft tofu
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tsp rum extract
  • 18 - 20 ladyfingers (Savoiardi biscuits)
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa


In mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until thickened and pale
yellow, 3 to 4 minutes.

In heavy saucepan over low heat, cook egg mixture, whisking to prevent curdling, until
slightly thickened. Do not boil. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Using clean beaters, beat meringue powder with 1/4 cup water until stiff
peaks forms. Set aside.

In large bowl, mash and whisk drained tofu until smooth. Whisk in egg custard. Fold
in meringue.

In small bowl, mix 1/4 cup (50 mL) hot water and instant coffee, stirring to dissolve.
Stir in rum extract. Pour into a shallow dish.

Dip both sides of ladyfingers into coffee mixture and arrange 9 to 10 ladyfingers in one
layer in bottom of an 8-inch glass square dish, cutting to fit as necessary. Spoon half
of custard mixture over ladyfingers. Repeat with a second layer of ladyfingers and custard.
Place cocoa in small sieve and shake evenly over top. Cover and refrigerate a few hours
or overnight.

Makes 6 servings.

Tasty tidbit – Tiramisù means “pick-me-up” in Italian. Letting this recipe sit overnight gives the
flavours a chance to blend and achieve their optimal balance. Nothing beats this great
smooth taste!

Mushroom Tortilla Pizza


  • 1 6-inch (15 cm) flour tortilla
  • 1/4 cup prepared mild salsa or pizza sauce
  • 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or Cheddar cheese


Place tortilla on baking sheet. Spread salsa evenly over tortilla leaving 1/4-inch
bare around edges (sauce will spread during cooking). Top with mushrooms and
sprinkle with cheese.

Bake in preheated 450°F (230°C) oven for 10 minutes or until cheese melts.
Makes 1 serving.


If desired, substitute 1/4 cup chopped peppers or cooked spinach for the
mushrooms. Sauté the vegetables in a little butter or vegetable oil to make them
even tastier.

OLÉ: For a Mexican variation, spread 2 tbsp refried beans evenly over
tortilla, then top with salsa, mushrooms and cheese and bake as above.

Tasty tidbit – Are you always using white button mushrooms in recipes? Try experimenting with a variety of mushrooms to discover rich flavours and meaty textures. Tantalize your taste
buds with Shiitake or Portobello varieties in sauces and stir-fries.

*Recipes courtesy Goes Down Easy

Vanessa Chris is an award-winning journalist specializing in the realm of business writing. Since graduating from the University of Western Ontario’s Graduate Program in Journalism, her work has appeared in such publications as Canadian Real Estate magazine, various Post City and Metroland publications, The London Free Press and a bi-weekly lifestyle/relationship column in the Toronto Star.