Nutrition during cancer treatment and beyond

Nutrition during cancer treatment and beyond
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 5 January, 2023

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we’re looking at how adequate nourishment can help the body heal. Kim Hofmann, Registered Dietitian and Virgin Active’s expert on nutrition, delves into how nutrition may help the healing process.

Journalist Michael Pollan, author of ‘In defense of food’, summed it up so well when he said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Working closely with a Registered Dietitian or nutritionist – who can draw up a personalised eating plan that works best for your treatment plan and recovery – may be very beneficial for your overall wellbeing during the healing process. Kim’s got some great tips below.

Wholesome, homemade, plant-based

Wherever possible, try to eat wholesome, homemade foods that are not excessively processed and do not contain large amounts of salt, sugar and preservatives. Try homemade versions of hummus, fava bean dip, guacamole, nut butters and unflavoured cottage cheeses – even if it means scraping a tiny bit onto a cracker or toast to begin with and building from there. Eating a predominantly plant-based diet that incorporates small amounts of white meats may be easier for the stomach to digest than large amounts of red meats. Fruit, vegetables and legumes – such as beans, chickpeas and lentils – should be the largest consumed food group during this time. Incorporate wholesome foods into your diet, such as wholegrain carbohydrates – choose brown, wholewheat, wholegrain, seeded or rye bread over white bread, as it will keep you fuller for longer and offer your body more nutrition.

Preparing food

When you experience nausea, the smell of food may make the sensation worse, which is why having food prepared for or delivered to you is recommended to help maintain your intake. If you have to prepare food yourself, open the kitchen windows and door while you do so. Take a step outside or sit near an open window, if you feel the smell of food is too overpowering.

Small, regular meals

Portion size pre-treatment may not be the same during or after treatment. Try to eat smaller meals throughout the day, instead of forcing yourself to eat larger portions in one go. Snacking between meals may also help.

Just right

Blander meals – that are not too sweet, salty, bitter, spicy, fatty or rich – are more likely to be more agreeable during this time. Try seed crackers, wholewheat toast, oats, porridge, and plain yoghurt. Make your oats using fat-free or low-fat milk, rather than full-cream milk, and add a selection of fruit, such as grated or pureed apple, smashed bananas, and berries as well as nuts and seeds.


Drinking fluids during meals or all in one go may prove challenging. Having a bottle of still/sparkling water or herbal teas close by will help you take small sips when you’re thirsty. Green tea has been proven to have positive effects during the healing and recovery process. Add freshly cut or frozen fruit and herbs to your water or tea to add natural flavour. Grated ginger or ginger ale may relieve nausea.

Homemade smoothies may help you eat enough calories throughout the day – add a vegan protein powder, if you feel you’re lacking it in your diet. Add whichever fruit and vegetables agree with you on a particular day. Choose smoothies over homemade juices that discard the fruits’ fibre matrix which is essential for nutrients.

Pureed soups made from your favourite vegetables, carbohydrates and starches are another great way to get in more calories.

What to avoid?

  • Alcohol – it may interact with treatment
  • Overly processed foods that are high in sugar and contain little nutrition
  • Raw or undercooked foods, such as sushi, and any foods you wouldn’t eat while pregnant
  • Spicy and crunchy foods, if you develop mouth sores
  • More than two cups of coffee daily
  • Foods deep-friend in high temperatures for long periods of time may be carcinogenic
  • Burnt foods may be carcinogenic

Things to try

  • Whatever works best for you during this time
  • Drinking through a straw may help prevent the aggravation of mouth sores
  • Medication or alternative treatments for nausea
  • Various food textures and consistencies – blending, pureeing, bite-size pieces
  • Unusual and unconventional food combinations you wouldn’t normally try •ooking, steaming or freezing foods you wouldn’t normally

For more information on nutrition or to find a dietitian you can visit the professional organisation for Registered Dietitians, the Association for Dietetics South Africa.