Smooth nutrition

Some radiation and chemotherapy patients find it difficult to get essential nutrition during treatment, because side effects – difficulty or pain with swallowing, difficulty chewing –  or just poor appetite keep them from eating.  It’s especially challenging to get enough calories and protein if nutritional supplement drinks aren’t appealing or are hard to find.

The following foods are easily blended into smoothies and soups, providing protein and calories that are easy to consume (and are readily available):

  • Milk, cream and milk powder
  • Butter
  • Cheese sauces
  • Cottage cheese and yogurt
  • Cooked vegetables without skins
  • Cooked, canned or frozen fruits
  • Peanut and other smooth nut butters

For a nutrient-packed summer smoothie, try a Sherbet Shake or Peanut Butter-Banana Shake from the American Cancer Society’s What to Eat During Cancer Treatment by Jeanne Besser, Kristina Ratley, RD, CSO, LDN, Sheri Knecht, RD, CSO, CNSD, LDN, and Michele Szafranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, available through the American Cancer Society.

Fruit smoothies

A fruit smoothie packs plenty of good nutrition.

Sherbet Shake

1 Serving

  • 1 cup sherbet (any flavor)
  • ¾ cup low-fat milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a blender, combine the sherbet, milk and vanilla and blend until smooth. One serving provides 320 calories and 8 grams of protein.


Banana smoothie

Add peanut butter to a banana shake for extra protein.

Peanut Butter-Banana Shake

2 servings

  • 4 to 6 ice cubes
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • ½ large ripe banana, broken into pieces
  • ¼ cup creamy all-natural or regular peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup or honey

In a blender, crush 4 ice cubes.  Add the milk, banana, peanut butter, and chocolate syrup and blend until smooth. For a colder shake, add the remaining ice cubes and blend until combined. One serving provides 350 calories and 12 grams of protein.

You can substitute with lactose-free, rice or almond milk and sorbet if you are lactose intolerant.  Using whole milk will add more calories as well.

Are there foods I should avoid during cancer treatment?

Not necessarily. While you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, your body’s first priority is staying strong and nourished. You may need extra calories, protein and nutrition during this time as your body will be trying to recover from any healthy cell damage that may occur. You need these nutrients to regenerate tissue and to provide energy to continue your activities of daily living, as your nutritional needs can significantly increase.

Quite simply, we obtain the best nutrients for our bodies by eating fresh foods, and a variety of foods will provide vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that all work together to keep us healthy. During treatment, it may be difficult to eat due to side effects, including nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, changes in taste or smell or problems with swallowing.

While any of these symptoms makes it more difficult to eat, it is important to take advantage of the foods you are able to tolerate rather than to restrict your diet: You will need the nourishment in order to meet your energy needs during a critical time.

A look at some research…



Dietary sources of methionine include nuts and legumes.

Methionine is an essential amino acid obtained only through food sources, as our bodies don’t produce it. Some nutritional studies in animals and humans have examined the restriction of methionine and the increase of effectiveness of chemotherapy by depriving methionine-dependent cancer cells of the amino acid to deter growth. Restriction is studied in particular in cancers that depend on methionine for survival and proliferation, though it is not the only component of cancer cell growth.

Foods high in methionine include animal proteins, eggs, seeds and legumes – all high in protein, calories and other nutrients that make them good food choices, especially when eating a regular diet and maintaining weight is difficult.

There still is insufficient knowledge about reliable nutritional advice to prevent tumor growth; however, the American Institute of Cancer Research for nutrition during cancer treatment recommends that cancer patients try to maintain a healthy weight with a healthy diet, often with foods high in calories and protein.  For more information visit

Learn more about cancer and nutrition

Cancer overview »

Amino acids »

Nutrition and cancer prevention »