Feeling Nauseous During Cancer Treatment?

Darcy Stagman, MS, RD, CD is a clinical nutritionist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. She provides the following advice for helping to cope with nausea during treatment.


The side effect of nausea during cancer treatment can certainly affect appetite, not to mention the added challenge of finding foods that are appealing. When food lingers in the stomach this can contribute to the feeling of being queasy or sick to your stomach. The best foods to eat are those that are quickly digested.


The Rule of "Fs"

Keep in mind the “the rule of Fs” – fiber, fat, frequency, fluids.




Fiber, which is commonly found in beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains is an indigestible component of food. Fiber-rich foods increase fullness and typically, this would be desired, but not if you are nauseous.



  • White bread, regular pasta, white rice, graham crackers, saltines, plain bagels or English muffins, plain mashed potatoes, hot/cold breakfast cereals like Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Rice Chex, Cream of Rice.

  • Canned fruits like applesauce, peaches, pears or bananas or fruit juice. If nausea is mild, all fruits may be tolerable.

In cases of extreme nausea, it is best to avoid vegetables. For milder nausea, try vegetable juice or cooked carrots, green beans.




The higher the fat content of a meal, the longer it takes to digest.  Rich or deep fried foods will linger in the stomach – this can trigger nausea.  It is best to choose low fat alternatives.



  • Skim milk (or almond, rice, soy milk), nonfat or low fat yogurt, low fat cheese, low fat cottage cheese.

  • Baked or poached chicken, fish, turkey, canned tuna or chicken, eggs, tofu, deli meat (turkey, chicken, lean ham).



When nauseous, liquids are often more tolerable than solids. Sip on small amounts of fluid throughout the day between meals and choose beverages that provide calories—fruit juices, sport drinks, flat regular clear soda or ginger ale. Drinking small amounts continually will help with calorie intake and hydration.




A large meal can take hours upon hours to digest. A more effective strategy is eating small portions of food as often as every 1-2 hours. Here is an example:


7am: 1/2 plain bagel + 1 Tbsp 100 percent fruit spread
9am: 6oz low fat yogurt + 1/2 cup canned peaches
11am: 1 cup broth based soup with chicken and rick or noodles + 1 serving saltine crackers
1pm: String cheese, graham crackers (1 sheet)
3pm: 1/2 cup cottage cheese + 1/2 cup canned pineapple
5pm: Sandwich - 2 pcs white bread, 2 oz deli turkey, 1 slice low fat cheese
7pm: Banana + 1 Tbsp peanut butter
9am: 2 servings pretzels


One more tip - foods that give off intense aromas or that are heavily seasoned can be triggers for nausea. It is best to stick with bland or mild foods and to keep the cooking to a minimum.