Nutritionist Lucy Hyland

Nutrition and Chemo

November 21, 2023
Posted by Lucy

I've been doing some great work at the moment with Jim Fisher, from around cooking and eating while undergoing chemotherapy.

I often see patients who are trying to manage eating well while they are undergoing chemo. Check out my article with this great chef on

or read below:

Ideas to make chemotherapy more tolerable for cancer sufferers...

My mum and I used to love cooking together, but, once she was diagnosed, there were more important things to consider than gourmet cooking.

We had to focus on maintaining her strength and fitness as well as choosing foods that helped her overcome chemo’s radical effects of her body. This included a diminished appetite and a drastic change in her sense of taste.

Recipes to combat the effects of chemotherapy...

We concocted a series of recipes that could be adapted on the fly to her changing sense of taste and her - often severe - physical symptoms.

Chief amongst those that affected her appetite and ability to taste was Oral Mucositis which caused pain and inflammation of the surface of the inside of her mouth. Mouth ulcers were also a problem making it difficult to eat, drink and even talk.

Coupled with this was constant fatigue, high levels of stress and a nagging fear for the future.

Our recipes and approach helped Mum and I hope others will get benefit from this too.

The world turns pink for Breast Cancer Awareness...

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month when the world turns pink and the disease is endorsed by celebrities.

Raising awareness this way is fantastic but the women actually going through treatment for this debilitating disease can be overlooked. Their world is far from pink.

Inspired by my own mother’s battle with cancer, I've been working with nutritional therapist, Lucy Hyland of Food For Living, to create ideas and recipes to help people going through chemo.

My chemo cookery advice...

Maintain and repair mucosal lining of mouth, stomach and gut
Calm lining with teas such as liquorice, chamomile and fennel. Ginger tea also helps with any post nausea. Include these ingredients in dishes or even juices if it helps.

Increase consumption of easily digestible foods
It’s the perfect time for slow cooked stews and casseroles and soups with heaps of veggies. Liquidise as much as possible –people drink broth to get the electrolytes and nutrients in. Freshly made smoothies and juices are great if you have a blender – dairy can be hard to tolerate but you might be able to add some yogurt to smoothies – if not, I tend to use 100% nut butter blended into smoothies and not noticed – great source of easily digestible protein and good fats (great for all that repair work)

Increase consumption of anti-oxidants to help boost immune system
Consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (see soups above) or stew your fruit if you can’t handle fresh. Add fresh herbs and spices to dishes - – perhaps infusing a broth with rosemary to provide anti-oxidant support.

Increase natural anti-inflammatories as body is generally quite inflamed afterwards
Examples include garlic, ginger, nuts and seeds (grind them if they are too course or use nut butters) fish. Also try to reduce naturally inflammatory foods such as dairy, sugar and meats.

Ensure a healthy bowel by eating plenty of fibre rich foods
(wholegrains such as porridge for breakfast, brown breads at lunch and brown rice/pasta for dinner), beans and legumes (hummus, adding a tin of chickpeas to your stew or vegetable soups), nuts and seeds and heaps of veggies and fruit. This is more for post chemo – the body may not be able to handle all this fibre and so use your blending and pureeing and grinding techniques to make digestion as easy as possible.

Try to consume at least 8 glasses of water a day and try to walk a little every day. Increase protein intake
The body is undergoing some repair and so having protein with every meal will help fuel this, for example, eggs or yogurt with breakfast, and beans, legumes, fish, eggs or a limited amount of meat with lunch and dinner. again – this is post chemo but going for easy to digest proteins might help – I blend beans and legumes into soups so people don’t need to digest them as much. Even if people can tolerate a little porridge in the morning, I will grind some nuts and seeds and sprinkle on or soak the nuts and seeds over night to make them much easier to digest.

Make stocks, soups and sauces from natural ingredients
Often, processed foods can taste strange or metallic so try to use fresh or non-processed ingredients.

Back off on salt, pepper and spices and avoid overly-browning meat and over-reducing sauces
Sometimes, highly flavoured foods are too strong for chemo patients. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to serve hot foods cold or at room temperature because heat increases flavour.

Avoid dairy and fats
These can trigger nausea - use pure nut butters and soy products where possible.


Vanilla and Banana Smoothie

A soothing and nutritious smoothie. Vary the ingredients to include blueberries, raspberries, etc.

Serves one

250ml soy milk (or soya cream for extra mouth feel)
1 ripe banana
seeds of ¼ vanilla pod
1 tsp un-processed honey

Blend all the ingredients together until ultra smooth. Pass through a fine sieve if still too course (to relieve throat pain).

Vichyssoise Soup

Classic creamy potato and leek soup traditionally served cold (thus reducing the intensity if the patient is feeling sensitive to strong flavours).

Serves 6

1 leek (white part only), roughly chopped
3 medium semi waxy potatoes (i.e. Maris Piper), peeled
2 tsp nut oil
1 ltr fresh chicken or vegetable stock (pale, not roasted)
250 ml soy milk
salt (scant)

Gently sweat the leek in the oil for about five minutes until softened. Add the potatoes and then the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potatoes are very soft.

Turn off the heat and stir in a little salt to the patient’s taste.

Add the soy milk and blend to a smooth puree. Pass through a fine sieve and serve either cold or warm (never hot).

Chicken and Watercress Salad with Chickpeas and a Lemony Yoghurt Dressing

Chicken is a source of Selenium, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to the restriction of cancer cell growth and the alleviation of some chemotherapy side-effects.

Chickpeas contain Folic Acid, essential for cell growth and for proper synthesis and repair of DNA.

There is evidence to suggest that a compound in watercress can ‘turn off’ a signal in the body that is responsible for cancer growth.

This recipe is also a great way to use any leftover roast chicken, and it has a beautifully simple dressing to go with it. Start by soaking the chickpeas in plenty of cold water overnight.

Serves four

3 heaped tbsp dried chickpeas (soaked, as above)
4 free-range organic skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp nut oil
Salt (scant)
Freshly ground black pepper (scant)
Glass dry white wine
250 ml low fat or dairy-free yoghurt
Finely grated zest and the juice of a lemon
1 tbsp finely shredded mint leaves
Bunch of watercress

Simmer the chickpeas in plenty of un-salted water for about 30 minutes (salt toughens the skin of dried peas and pulses and can make the dish unpalatable to chemo patients). Drain and cool.

Smear the chicken pieces with a little oil, then season lightly (if at all - see above) with salt and pepper. Bring a large deep lidded frying pan to a high heat and fry the chicken on the ‘skin’ side for about two to three minutes or until golden brown. Turn the pieces over and brown as before on the ‘flesh’ side.

Pour in the glass of white wine (or water opr chicken stock) and simmer for two minutes. Put the lid on and turn off the heat – yes, that’s right, turn the heat off. Drape a couple of t-towels over the top and leave it alone to ‘rest’ for fifteen minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (t chicken will continue to cook in the residual heat of the pan).

Make the dressing: empty the yoghurt into a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in the lemon zest, a teaspoon of the juice, the mint leaves and a scant pinch of salt.

Now, remove the chicken from the pan and pull off large strips of flesh, placing them in a bowl.

To assemble the salad, place pieces of chicken, some croutons and watercress on the plate working them into a pile. Drizzle the dressing over and around.

Panna Cotta and Spiced Prunes

Gelatin - used to set the Panna Cotta - in the diet can help reduce the effects of chemotherapy on the patient’s nails, which often splinter and can even turn black.

Soy instead of dairy helps with nausea, and honey is always better than processed sugar due to its naturally antiseptic and hypo-allergenic qualities.

Rehydrated dried fruits are often easier to digest than fresh.

For the Panna Cotta:
250 ml soy milk
250 ml soy cream
2 level tbsp honey
1 vanilla pod, split down its length
3 level tsp gelatin

For the prunes:
24 no-soak prunes
2 tsp honey
250 ml strong cold tea
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Put the milk and cream into a saucepan with the honey and vanilla pod and simmer for five minutes.

Turn off the heat and leave to infuse while you deal with the gelatin; sprinkle the powder onto 3 tbsp. of hot water in a small saucepan and leave it alone for five minutes after which time the crystals will have softened and absorbed the liquid.

You can now gently heat the gelatin to dissolve.

Whisk in the still-hot cream. Remove the vanilla pod and pour the mixture into 6 ramekins or dariol moulds. Cool to room temperature then pop them into the fridge to set - about 2 hours.Place the prunes in a saucepan with the other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Cover and leave to steep in a cool place, preferably overnight, or for at least 6 hours.

To serve:
Briefly dip the bases of the dariol moulds into hot water for about 2-3 seconds to loosen the sides, then carefully turn them out onto four cold plates. Pile some prunes alongside and pour on some extra juice.

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