Need support?

Living with a terminal illness and looking for support? Our Support Line team are here to help. 

 Open today until 6PM

by phone

 0800 090 2309 Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. Find out more about our Support Line.

Healthy eating

Illness, treatments and medication might have caused you to lose some or all of your appetite. Your tastes and preferences may also be affected. Don’t worry, this is common. This page suggests some ways you could keep a healthy diet.  

On this page:

Ideas and suggestions

These are some ideas to help you keep eating well when you’re ill.

Appetite loss

Sometimes you might not feel like eating – even if someone has made something especially for you. This could be because of difficulties with swallowing or digestion, a sore mouth, or because of your illness or treatments.

  • Eating small portions regularly is fine, and might be more appealing.
  • Nibble on snacks, like almonds or pieces of fruit. 
  • Eat something for breakfast when you wake up in the morning – it’s the time of day when appetite is at its best.
  • It might be easier for you to eat sitting upright. 
  • A small glass of sherry or brandy half an hour before a meal or a glass of wine may help with appetite and digestion, but ask your doctor first.
After four months, Mum didn't need the tube anymore. The first thing she ate was a small piece of fish – but then she got back on to proper food. She became very adventurous in her tastes, enjoying flavours she never would have eaten before she was ill – such as spicy Thai cuisine. It awakened her taste buds to new experiences. 
Deirdre, Carer/Relative

Ideas for healthy meals and snacks video

If you’re caring for someone at home, this film gives you ideas for healthy meals and snacks.

Nausea

If the smell of hot food makes you feel nauseous, try eating cold meals, consisting of food that doesn’t need to be cooked. Cold meats could be a good option and raw food, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some dairy products, provide a lot of nutrition. You could try some raw food recipes.

Boiled sweets can soothe a dry mouth and relieve nausea. Fizzy drinks, like sparkling mineral water or lemonade, can also help.

More suggestions to help you with loss of appetite and nausea are given in our article ‘Weight loss and loss of appetite’.

Liquid and soft food

You may find it easier to manage liquid foods like:

  • soup
  • vegetable and fruit smoothies
  • food supplements like Ensure, Fortisip or Complan
  • flavoured milkshakes

Or soft foods like:

  • mashed potato
  • risotto
  • jelly
  • ice-cream

Often these foods can be eaten when other types of food aren’t as easy or appealing to eat. Jelly beans can also be good if you’re missing certain flavours, although they’re not very nutritious.

Practical issues

You might need some assistance during mealtimes. These tips could help:

  • If sitting up is difficult try using a few extra pillows to get you in the right position for eating.
  • A table across the bed can also be helpful.
  • Get someone to help you if you’re finding it hard or tiring to eat your food.
  • Meals can take a long time to eat, so allow for this.

back to top

Getting advice

Untreated loss of appetite can lead to weight loss. If you carry on having problems with your appetite or you find you're losing weight, contact your nurse or doctor. They can also advise and treat you if nausea is stopping you from eating. Talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

Food groups

Eating a healthy diet made up of different foods provides nutrients to your body and gives you energy. A balanced diet should be made up of the following food groups:

  • Protein: meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, pulses (beans and lentils), eggs and dairy products.
  • Carbohydrates: bread, rice, noodles, potatoes, pasta, couscous and quinoa.
  • Fibre: wholegrains provide plenty of fibre – brown rice, brown pasta, wholemeal bread, vegetables, and fruit. 
  • Fruit and vegetables: provide vitamins and minerals – freshly made fruit and vegetable juices can be a very tasty way of getting plenty of nutrients.
  • Fats: essential fats from oily fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines – are an important part of a healthy diet, but cut down on saturated fats – full cream or whole milk, butter, cream, cheese and red meat.

Tips:

  • Tastes can change, so choose the foods that appeal to you most. 
  • Try not to add salt or sugar, as many foods contain them anyway.
  • Try to drink plenty of water.

Vitamins and minerals

The NHS website gives detailed information   about vitamin and mineral requirements.

You might find it helpful to have a chart up on the wall showing vitamins and minerals in food.

back to top

External websites

Macmillan Cancer Support   – recipes for people affected by cancer

NHS website Healthy Eating recommendations   – the Healthy Eating Plate (pdf download)

Print this page