Cancer and Christmas Foods

christmas food


Christmas can be difficult for cancer patients who are going through treatment. Many people who have cancer have few or no problems related to eating but some do. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy or other forms of treatment can severely affect a person’s appetite, sense of taste, digestion, energy levels and cause constipation. Most of us overindulge and feast on rich food and drink – the traditional Christmas roast, alcohol, heavy desserts and chocolate. But if you’re undergoing treatment the things you used to enjoy at Christmas might be turning your stomach. But why should cancer patients have to put up with bland, tasteless food?


At Christmas you may have added pressure from friends and family who want you to eat something when you might not want to. How do you still take part in the festivities if you’re not feeling well? Here are some tips to help you to join in…


Avoid highly flavoured foods


Try and avoid over-reduced sauces, overly browned meat and too much salt and pepper as these can be too strong for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Often someone undergoing chemotherapy can develop a horrible taste in the mouth that makes everything taste bad, so bland food would not be a good idea in this case. Really fresh food with a strong taste would be appropriate such as a lovely nourishing salad with a lemon juice dressing (as long as their mouth is not sore).


Avoid processed foods


Often processed foods can taste metallic so try and use fresh ingredients or stick to foods that have been cooked using fresh produce. Make sure food has a soft texture, especially if the patient has a sore mouth.


Eat nourishing soups


It’s common to have a dry/ulcerated mouth if you’re undergoing cancer treatment, so it’s good to have lots of liquids. Soup can be a good alternative to a heavier meal and doesn’t need to be bland. There are lots of tasty soup recipes out there. Cauliflower soup contains Vitamin K which supports liver function, which needs to work well during chemotherapy. Whilst cauliflower is cooking the smell can make some patients nauseous so add walnuts or bread in the water with the cauliflower to neutralise the smell. Parsnips may be a bit too sweet so a potato based soup is a good idea. Add cumin and nutmeg to protect the liver and turmeric to soothe inflammation. Click here for a Cream of Cauliflower soup recipe which makes a great Christmas starter.


Christmas Dinner


Yorkshire puddings, sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cranberry sauce, bread sauce – the list goes on. It may be that if you’re at someone else’s house for Christmas Day that you just eat less than usual (a typical portion could be too much for your stomach to handle). Or you could split it up and have smaller meals throughout the day. If you’re cooking at home then adding more flavour to the vegetables might improve the taste if you are struggling with a bad taste in your mouth. Don’t feel pressured to eat a huge plate of food just because others are, it’s often way too much for someone who isn’t ill!


Replace Christmas Pudding with a Coconut Rice Pudding!


Christmas pud is often too rich for most people, never mind if you’re undergoing treatment. Coconut milk is a natural alternative to milk (some chemotherapy patients can become lactose intolerant). Vanilla provides natural sweetness without having to add sugar which can be too harsh on the taste buds. Click here for the recipe for Coconut Rice Pudding with Dried Fruit Compote.


Mulled Wine is still on the menu!


Because mulled wine is heated, most of the alcohol (75%) evaporates which means that it shouldn’t interfere with medication. Generally, the odd glass of wine or beer isn’t a problem but check with your doctor or specialist nurse if you are having treatment. Alcohol can sometimes interfere with how cancer drugs work or may make you feel very sick. If it has too strong a taste, it can be watered down. Natural sweeteners like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla are far easier on the palate than sugar, which can have a metallic taste. Click here for a Mulled Wine recipe


Lost your sense of taste?


As well as suffering from a metallic taste or altered taste, some patients can suffer from a complete loss of their sense of taste. One of my clients has just had her sense of taste return after 18 months without it. She is now relishing every mouthful of even the most banal foods so stay positive if this has happened to you too. She says that every remembered flavour is now a ‘When Harry Met Sally” moment of ecstasy! I watched her eating Pringles today with her eyes closed and grinning from ear to ear!


Wishing you a wonderful, peaceful Christmas and a very happy and healthy 2017!






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