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What Should I Eat if I Have Nausea?

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Updated November 13, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Should I Eat if I Have Nausea?
Answer: Picking the right foods and eating them in the right ways can lessen nausea, making meals and snacks more appealing again. During cancer treatment, try to view food as your ally, not your enemy.

First, Don't Skip Medications

The most important thing to remember when dealing with nausea is that medication is your most important defense. Nutrition should not take the place of anti-nausea (anti-emetic) medications. Instead, it should be used along with proper medical management.

If your doctor or nurse gives you a set schedule for taking your medication, stick to it. Even if you don’t feel nauseated, take your medications as prescribed to prevent nausea and vomiting from occurring. It’s much easier to prevent nausea and vomiting than it is to treat them once they occur.

If your medications aren't working, ask your medical team for help. Let your doctor know how you're doing and work with him or her until you get the symptom relief you need. Do not be discouraged if your first medications are not working. The list of differently working drugs for this problem is long, and it may be a matter of finding the right combination.

Easy Eats and Tips to Soothe Nausea

  • If possible, avoid the kitchen when food is being prepared, to avoid strong food smells.
  • Try low-odor, quick-cooking foods such as oatmeal; cream of wheat; cold cereal; canned peaches, pears, or fruit cocktail; shakes and smoothies; scrambled eggs; French toast; and pancakes.
  • Experiment with food temperatures. Try warm foods such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or soup; and cold foods such as frozen fruit, popsicles, frozen fruit bars, or shakes and smoothies. You'll quickly figure out what temperature your body likes best and when.
  • Try unusual flavors. What you normally like may not be appealing now, and what you typically don't enjoy might actually work well during treatment. For example, try making a sour, tart, or mildly sweet shake or smoothie by adding frozen cranberries into the mix.
  • You can cut the overly sweet taste of liquid nutritional products (e.g., Ensure) by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of finely ground, decaffeinated coffee to chocolate or vanilla flavors.
  • Use a travel mug with a lid to avoid unnecessary smells that can worsen nausea.
  • Keep snacks handy, because hunger may last only a few minutes. Eat the minute you feel like it.
  • Try keeping a little food in your stomach at all times. Having a completely empty stomach may worsen nausea.
  • Stay upright, either in a chair or propped up with pillows, for at least 30-60 minutes after eating. Lying flat after meals and snacks can worsen nausea and heartburn.
  • Sip ginger tea or ginger ale between meals and snacks. Try hard ginger candy as well, if that sounds appealing.
  • Drink water. Keeping hydrated can help a great deal with nausea. If you cannot do so on your own, your doctor may suggest fluid infusions in the clinic.

If your nausea and/or vomiting gets worse or is really difficult to control, a brain scan may be performed to rule out brain involvement.

Sources:

Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. The Clinical Guide to Oncology Nutrition, Second Edition, 2006. (Elliott L, Molseed LL, McCallum PD, Grant B, Eds.). American Dietetic Association: Chicago, IL.

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