Nutrition: challenges with treatment, difficulty swallowing, nausea (sickness) and vomiting

Friday 04 May 2018

As promised this week I want to continue with the theme of helping with dietary ideas that may help alleviate some of the side effects that can be experienced as a result of treatment, in particular difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting.

Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone. Sometimes the best thing to do is to listen to your body and eat whatever nutritious food you can tolerate and enjoy.

Having said that even if the food that you fancy is not what we consider ‘nutritious’ then eat what you fancy knowing that when the phase passes that you can pick up a healthy eating regime and get yourself back on track so to speak.

Coping with difficulty swallowing ( Dysphagia)

  • Choose to eat well cooked foods, preferably blended to a smooth consistency.
  • I think that making a smoothie that includes an avocado really helps as the avocado gives the drink a smooth silky texture that slips down easily. Try the protein smoothie recipe I placed on 1st May, change the blueberries I have used in the recipe to pineapple or melon to achieve a smoother finish avoiding the skin of the blueberries.  
  • A similar consistency can be achieved using cornflour or arrowroot to thicken soups and savoury drinks, this tends to make them easier to swallow.
  • Obviously using a straw may help and eating little and often to keep up the energy levels without over facing yourself with too much food which can be very off putting.

Coping with nausea (feeling sick)
When treatments are given it is now common practice for medics to give anti nausea drugs at the same time which should certainly help with the problem. However nausea can last for 3 or 4 days after treatment so some of the ideas below may be useful.

  • One good tip is to get someone else to prepare your food or prepare foods ahead of time and freeze in suitable portions so that you can avoid handling the food or being subject to the cooking smells. Soups are a fantastic standby, can be frozen is small portions and sipped slowly after reheating.
  • Try to have something to eat little and often as an empty stomach can sometimes make nausea worse. It may be as simple as a piece of dry toast or an oat cake or a small portion of soup.
  • Try to make the atmosphere around food calm and relaxing.
  • Ginger tea sipped slowly can help to alleviate nausea. Simply peel and chop up a small piece of fresh root ginger. Pour over boiling water and allow to infuse for a few minutes before sipping. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon or a small teaspoon of runny honey.
  • People have talked to me about ‘nausea flashback’. If you eat a food just before treatment then experience nausea as a result of treatment, when you see or taste that food again it brings back the sensation and memory of nausea.
  • Eat food well away from food preparation areas, keeping the atmosphere fresh and light.

Vomiting (being sick)

Vomiting will hopefully be an experience that can be avoided, particularly with preventative drugs used at the same time as treatment.

  • If you do suffer a bout of vomiting try to sip cool water afterwards to freshen up the mouth and clear the throat.
  • It may be a good idea to have a drink that will help replace electrolytes that can be lost. (i.e. sodium and potassium levels). An imbalance in these minerals can make you feel worse.
    Coconut water or a drink called Electro Mix are suitable. The coconut water can be bought from most health food shops and the Electro MIX can be purchased from
  • If vomiting is persistent then consult your specialist nurse or doctor.

Banana and ginger shake. A very simple recipe, I have chosen this as ginger is very good at soothing the digestive system, bananas add essential potassium and energy but  are light on the digestive system.

Whiz together a banana, 1-2 small pieces of stem ginger, 1 tbsp lime juice and 100mls of oatley milk, rice milk or almond milk. Serve poured over a tumbler of ice cubes and sip through a straw.

I hope that you find some of these tips useful.  A very good book which I often turn to for inspiration is ‘Eating During Chemotherapy’ by Jose va Mil. It is essentially a recipe book but breaks up its chapters by looking at light foods, smooth foods, soft foods, foods with a bite, liquid foods, crispy and firm foods. The recipes are simple and because of the way that they are categorised makes it easy to choose one suitable for the needs of the moment.

Next week I want to look at ‘antioxidants’. It is a term that is used a great deal in nutrition but do we really know what they are and why such great importance is put on their use.

Blog originally written by Caroline August 2012

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