Nutrition for Lung Cancer Patients | American Lung Association

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Nutrition for Lung Cancer Patients

Key Points

  • There is no prescribed diet plan for someone with lung cancer.
  • Your nutritional needs during lung cancer will change.
  • Some foods can affect your lung cancer symptoms, making them worse or better.

Nutrition Goals

Each person's nutritional needs during lung cancer are different. They are based on your lung cancer treatment plan, your current height and weight, and any other illnesses you may have such as diabetes or heart disease. Here are some nutrition goals to keep in mind as you face lung cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. For some people, this may mean eating enough calories to avoid weight loss and for others, it may mean safely losing weight. Your doctor can help you determine your healthy weight.
  • Get essential nutrients the body needs. These are protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
  • Avoid foods that make your lung cancer treatment side effects worse. Certain foods worsen diarrhea, constipation and mouth sores.

Tips to Get Your Nutrients

Here are some tips on how to make sure you safely get all of your nutrients when you have lung cancer:

  • Avoid low-calorie or non-nutritious foods and drinks
  • Eat whenever you are hungry
  • Supplement with high-calorie drinks if necessary
  • Use herbs and spices to make food more appealing
  • Try liquid or pureed meals if you are struggling to eat
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day
  • Avoid food that is very hot or very cold
  • Mint and ginger teas can help soothe your gut
  • Do not take dietary supplements without consulting your doctor
  • Eat sitting up. Do not lie down after eating
  • Eat bland foods if your stomach is upset or your mouth hurts
  • Eat high fiber foods to help relieve constipation
  • Talk to your doctor!

Preparing Food Safely

When you are receiving treatment for lung cancer, your immune system may not be at its best, which puts you at a greater risk of infection. Follow these general guidelines when preparing food:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before eating
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • Use special care in handling raw meats, fish, poultry and eggs
  • Clean anything that has touched raw meat
  • Cook food to proper temperatures and drink pasteurized beverages
  • Store foods promptly at low temperatures to minimize bacterial growth (below 40ºF)
  • Avoid foods that may have potential bacterial contamination such as salad bars, sushi or undercooked meat
  • Contact your local health department if you are worried about water purity

What Are Bland Foods?

A bland diet is made up of foods that are soft, not very spicy and low in fiber. Here are some examples:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Cooked, canned or frozen vegetables (not raw)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Cooked or canned fruit with the skin and seeds removed such as applesauce, canned peaches or bananas
  • Bread, crackers and pasta made with refined white flour
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal and cream of wheat
  • Poultry, lean fish and shellfish that is steamed, baked or grilled with no added fat
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Pudding and custard
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Soup, especially broth
  • Weak tea

Where to Get Help

You can get help meeting your nutrition goals and learn what to eat during lung cancer treatment.

Sometimes you or your caregiver might be too tired to shop or cook. Don't be afraid to ask friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to help prepare meals or do the grocery shopping for you. Most people you know want to help; they just don't know how or don't want to intrude. Set up one of the caregiving support apps that are available that to help organize your volunteer network.

You also may want to seek out the expertise of a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who works with lung cancer patients. This person is trained to give advice about what to eat to meet your dietary needs. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist with experience in the dietary needs of people with lung cancer.

Talk to your doctors icon

Take Action

Sometimes finding the right diet that delivers proper nutrition during lung cancer treatment is a trial-and-error process. Talk to your doctor if you would like to see a registered dietitian nutritionist for nutritional guidance when you have lung cancer.

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    Lung Cancer Nutrition Tips


    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 16, 2018.

    Page Last Updated: March 28, 2019

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