When you’re feeling sick, either because of your illness or as a side-effect of a treatment such as chemotherapy, food may be the last thing you want to think about. The body can be cruel, too, as it can so easily slip into a cycle of the less you eat, the less you want. We need to try our hardest to buck this trend and remember that good supplies of nourishing nutrients will help to support your body at this time. Nausea too can be much worse when you don’t eat or drink anything, so just trying one mouthful can get you over the hurdle and encourage your appetite and motivation to eat.
- Nausea may come in waves so capitalise on those times of day when you don’t feel so sick. You may need to rethink your eating day, for instance by having your evening meal earlier or by eating a more substantial breakfast/brunch to take the pressure off dinner time. It’s usually better to think of having five smaller meals instead of your usual three, but try not to fall into the trap of having constant nibbles but nothing really nourishing. Try to split your meals into smaller nourishing moments – say, by having a small bowl of soup one meal and then a ramekin of a casserole a little later.
- Keep a food and symptoms diary to log what you eat over a 24-hour period to help work out any gaps where you have skipped a meal or snack. It will also provide useful insights to your care team to see if drug tweaks can help alleviate side effects. This can seem a cumbersome thing to do, but it’s worth persevering for the valuable insights into little things, drug or food wise, which can be tweaked to make things better.
- Eat ginger to ease nausea which could either be as ginger tea, a dash of ginger cordial in fizzy water, a small glass of ginger beer, or a little ginger biscuit or slither of ginger cake, especially those made with stem ginger. You can also buy pieces of stem ginger to nibble on as a snack to ease the sick feelings.
- Ask for help in the kitchen. Cooking food can make you feel queasy before you’ve eaten a mouthful, so try to get someone else to help with as much of the food preparation as possible. When you’re not feeling sick, cook more than you need to stock up the freezer with meals for when you feel below par. Freezing doesn't reduce the nutritional power of the food, but if you'd like to boost the vitamin C levels of, for instance, a soup you've defrosted, simply squeeze a little fresh lemon or lime into it, on serving.
- Keep it simple. Toast, especially thinly sliced sourdough bread, simple rice and pasta may sit well on your stomach but if you can manage some fruits and vegetables and a few sources of protein as well, this is a real plus.
- Avoid raw vegetables. You could find that cooked vegetables suit you more than raw ones for a time and you will still glean many useful vitamins. So think broths and soups, or a casserole with melt-in-the-mouth goodness.
- Try smoked foods. A slightly smoked flavour can sometimes settle nausea. Try a small mug of a smoky tea such as Lapsang Souchong or slightly spiced Indian chai. And although too much smoked food isn’t good for anyone, a little smoked mackerel or a slice of smoked chicken breast can just feel more settling on a nauseous gut.
- Eat small portions of protein. If you don’t feel like chomping your way through a steak or piece of chicken, think about incorporating protein in a small portion of shepherd’s pie, which contains all sorts of vegetables as well. Experiment with the topping, which could include cauliflower, parsnips or carrots as well as the traditional potato. You could also incorporate egg or nut milks like almond milk into pancakes or little Scotch pancakes, as they both provide a little protein without you noticing. Another idea would be to try making eggy bread, as this will contain more protein than a simple slice of toast. You could also add a sliver of lean ham or smoked fish, or some pure fruit spread or sliced banana and a little butter on top.
- Sip clear soup. If you’re feeling lousy and don’t fancy a plate or bowl of anything, then a mug of clear, consommé-style soup could be both comforting and nourishing. There are so many delicious varieties to choose, from a bone broth to a classic chicken noodle soup full of fresh ginger, lemon and fresh herbs.
For more information on a nourishing healthy diet, see Nutrition Basics.
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