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Diet and nutrition

Good nutrition is important for people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Eating healthy, balanced meals and getting as much good nutrition as possible can help you keep up your strength, energy, and sense of well-being.

To help with this, your healthcare team may put you in touch with a dietician (or nutritionist) who can help you plan healthy meals that work for you.For more general advice, you can consider the tips on this page.

A healthy, balanced diet consists of a range of different food types that are eaten in the right amounts.1 This ensures you get enough vitamins, minerals, protein, and fibre, which are all vital in helping your body to function well.1,2

Overall, fruits and vegetables should make up over a third of the food you eat in a day. Another third should be taken up by starchy foods, such as breads, pasta, rice, and potatoes – particularly wholegrain or wholemeal varieties, as these contain more fibre than white varieties.1,2

The remaining third should be split between protein, dairy, and a small amount of oils and spreads.1,2

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat, and other proteins are essential for our bodies to grow and repair themselves and can also contain vitamins and minerals. Dairy is another source of protein, and also provides calcium, which is important for healthy bones. Finally, you should try to limit the amount of oils and spreads during the day.2

While you may not be able to create this balance in every meal, it’s worth aiming for this at least a few times a week.1


Foods to avoid

In general, it’s best to avoid foods that are high in sugar, salt, or saturated fat, as these foods often have little to no nutrients or vitamins in them.1 They can also lead to wider health problems:2

  • Too much sugar can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes
  • Excess salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke or heart attacks




  • High saturated fat intake (the fat found in butter, fatty meats, and cheese) can increase cholesterol in the blood, raising the risk of heart disease

Remember, as long as you’re maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, you can still enjoy the occasional snack or indulgence.

Cancer treatments can often lead to side effects, including fatigue and loss of appetite. These can make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet, which can lead to people with cancer losing weight during treatment. The lower your weight, the harder it can be to cope with treatments, so it’s important to find ways to maintain a healthy diet. 

Some people find cooking difficult when they have cancer if they’re experiencing side effects. If you’re struggling like this, why not try some of the ideas below:3

  • Have a friend or family member help you with cooking or food shopping
  • Prepare meals in advance in batches, so that you can reheat them throughout your week
  • Look into 'meals on wheels' schemes, where a service will deliver specially prepared meals to your door for you

Some people also find that they can lose their appetite. This could be down to changes in how things taste, to nausea, or to just not feeling hungry.4 In these cases, try:

  • Eating smaller portions of food more often than you normally would3,4 
  • Carrying snacks with you so that you have something to eat if you get some appetite back during the day
  • Making meals a happy and relaxing time – play music, have a conversation, or if you are on your own watch something you enjoy on TV3

How to eat around side effects

Treatment may come along with other side effects that can affect your eating, such as a dry mouth, trouble swallowing, or mouth sores. The following tips can help you get around these:5

  • Moisten foods with sauces, gravy, or dressings
  • Eating very sweet or tart foods and drinks can help make more saliva
  • Take sips of water throughout the day
  • Speak to your doctor or dentist about using artificial saliva that can help coat, protect, and moisten your mouth 

  • Eat soft foods that are easy to chew, such as scrambled eggs, custards, or even milkshakes
  • Cook foods until they’re soft and tender
  • Cut food into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Eat foods at room temperature, as your sores may be sensitive to hot and cold foods
  • Suck on ice cubes to numb and soothe your mouth

  • Add spices and sauces to foods to intensify the flavour
  • Try tart foods and drinks, such as lemonade 
  • Use chewing gum or mints to remove any metallic or bitter tastes from your mouth
  • Avoid eating from metal containers or utensils; use plastic ones instead
  • Chew food for longer to allow more contact with taste buds

  • Eat soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow
  • Moisten food with gravy, sauces, dressings, or yogurt
  • Cook foods until soft and tender
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 larger meals a day
  • Sit upright and bend your head slightly forward when eating or drinking, and remain upright for at least 30 minutes after eating

  • Eat bland, soft foods that are light, rather than heavier meals
  • Eat dry foods such as bread sticks, toast, or crackers throughout the day
  • Slowly sip liquids throughout the day and during meals to avoid feeling full or bloated
  • Avoid skipping meals, as an empty stomach can make nausea worse
  • Speak to your doctor about using anti-nausea medicines

  • Avoid eating or drinking anything until the vomiting has stopped
  • Drink small sips of clear liquids after the vomiting has stopped
  • After you can drink clear liquids without vomiting, you can try heavier liquids such as soups or milkshakes
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 larger meals a day
  • Sit upright and bend forward after vomiting
  • Ask your doctor if they can recommend any medicine to control vomiting

Click on one of the options below to learn more 

Non-small cell lung cancer

  1. Macmillan. What is a healthy, balanced diet? Available at: Accessed August 2021.
  2. NHS. Eat well. 2019. Available at: Accessed August 2021.
  3. Macmillan. Eating problems and cancer, 2020. Available at: Accessed August 2021.
  4. Newton A et al. Mosby’s oncology nursing advisor. First Edition. Mosby Elsevier. 2009.
  5. National Cancer Institute. Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ®)–patient version. 2021. Available at: Accessed August 2021.