Search Menu
Search entire library by keyword
Choose by letter to browse topics
A B C D E F G H I J K LM N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0-9
(A-Z listing includes diseases, conditions, tests and procedures)

Nutrition for Lung Cancer Patients

Nutrition is a concern for many patients undergoing lung cancer treatment. Patients may experience weight loss, fatigue, dehydration and impaired nutritional intake due to side effects from treatment.

Johns Hopkins dietitian Alison Atkins, R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.C., provides nutritious tips to lessen the side effects from lung cancer treatment.


Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss

Illustrated weight scale
  • Consume small meals. Instead of eating three regular-sized meals, try eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day. Be sure they are high in calories and protein.
  • Have high-calorie nutrition drinks. Add supplemental nutrition drinks to your daily diet.
  • Eat highest-calorie foods first. If you feel full quickly while eating, eat your highest- calorie items first and save liquids for 30 minutes after a meal. Liquids can make you feel full and decrease your ability to eat.
  • Add calorie-rich toppings. Top foods with butter, oils, half-and-half creamer, melted cheese, avocado, jellies and peanut butter to boost calories.
  • Help your taste buds. If food doesn’t taste as good or the same as usual, try improving its flavor. For example, if you prefer sweet foods, add sweeteners like honey, fruit juice, jellies and dried fruit.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Illustrated man, holding his stomach in pain
  • Eat bland foods. This will help if you feel nauseated or have mouth sores.
  • Avoid foods with a strong odor. Skip garlic, fish, onions and spices. Try foods served cold to decrease odor, and eat dry foods, like crackers, rice, toast and dry cereal.
  • For diarrhea, decrease fiber. Choose refined-grain products (white bread, white rice, and corn or rice cereals), all-purpose flour, and well-cooked fruits and vegetables without skins or seeds.
  • For constipation, add fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, brown or wild rice, fruits and vegetables, bran or oat-based cereals, nuts, and seeds.
  • Drink fluids. For both diarrhea and constipation, drink plenty of fluids.

Painful Swallowing

Illustrated aerodigestive tract

Radiation treatment can make it painful to swallow. Try following a full liquid or “blenderized” diet to help reduce irritation to your esophagus.

  • Add protein to smoothies. Be sure to include a protein source, like Greek yogurt, milk, peanut butter, ground nuts or ice cream.
  • Avoid crunchy, hard foods. Skip foods that will scratch, such as raw fruits/vegetables, chips, nuts, fried foods, toast and tough meats.
  • For open sores, avoid spicy or acidic foods. Add broths, gravies, juices, cream, milk or water to foods to moisten. Run through a blender or food processor.


Illustrated glass of water

Daily fluid needs vary per person, but strive to drink eight to 10 cups of hydrating fluids daily. Hydrating fluids include all caffeine-free beverages, such as water, milk, juice, rehydration drinks, broth, and caffeine-free teas, sodas or coffees. To help prevent dehydration, try these tips:

  • Calculate your intake. Find a cup or bottle of known volume and determine how many per day you need to drink to meet your fluid goals. Having a specific number in mind will help you monitor your intake.
  • Sips add up! Make sure to keep liquids with you at all times and periodically sip on them.


Illustrated figure sleeping

Do your best to not skip meals; low intake can lead to low energy. If you feel fatigue or shortness of breath with eating, try the following:

  • Consume smaller, more frequent meals. Eat six to eight per day.
  • Have easy-to-prepare snacks on hand. Try yogurt, cereal, pudding, soup, crackers with peanut butter or cheese, and sandwiches.
  • Consume softer foods. If chewing becomes tiring, mash, chop, dice or grind foods.

Supporting a Loved One Affected by Lung Cancer

Illustrated friends, one wrapping an arm around the shoulder of the other
  • Keep a variety of foods on hand, as tastes frequently can change during treatment.
  • When shopping at the grocery store, avoid buying foods that are low in calories, fat or sugar if your loved one is having difficulty taking in enough calories.
  • Try cooking in bulk and freezing individual portions of meals in sandwich bags or containers for easier mealtime preparation.
  • Encourage food intake, but don’t force it.
  • Create a comforting mealtime environment free of stress.
  • Don’t forget to care for yourself! Make sure to not skip meals and stay hydrated.

Find a physician at another Johns Hopkins Member Hospital:
Connect with a Treatment Center:
Find Additional Treatment Centers at:
woman holding pill case

Johns Hopkins Home Care

We provide high quality, individualized care for patients of all ages where you feel most comfortable – your home or community. Our services and equipment are designed to help you regain and retain a level of independence.

Learn More