​​​​By Susan Haines, RD, Clinical Dietitian​; Updated and reviewed by Karmen More, RD

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"Now that I have a diagnosis of lung cancer, I want to improve my diet to make it healthier. What should I do?"

There is an abundance of food in our society, to the point where obesity is a problem. As a result, most of the nutrition messages aimed at the general public are focused on lowering calories and fat to promote weight loss.

This advice makes sense for the general public, but the goals of good nutrition are different for people with lung cancer. It is easy to become confused. Some people stop eating animal products when they are diagnosed with lung cancer. Unfortunately, this removes most of the foods that provide them with protein. These people start to lose weight, but much of the weight lost is muscle. Once treatment starts, they quickly become tired and weak.

To support your body during treatment, your diet needs to have enough calories to prevent weight loss and enough protein to keep up your strength. When changing your diet, it’s important to know two things: lung cancer can cause weight loss, and people with lung cancer tend to be tired.

​​​ Lung cancer can cause weight loss

You may have lost weight before you were diagnosed. Treatments can also lead to weight loss by causing side effects like loss of appetite or a sore throat.

You can improve your diet by adjusting the types of fat and protein in the diet without lowering the amount. Here are some ideas for healthy changes:

  • Try eating fish instead of red meat for two of your meals each week. Both meat and fish are great sources of protein, but fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and herring contain omega-3 fats, which are a healthier type of fat.
  • Try snacking on nuts instead of chips. Nuts contain healthy fats and have the added benefit of providing protein. If you have a sore throat, try adding nut butters to smoothies.
  • Try spreading mild guacamole or a ripe avocado, butter, margarine, and/or mayo, on sandwiches and crackers.

​​​ People with lung cancer tend to be tired

Lung cancer and its treatment both cause fatigue, so your energy level may be lower than usual. This may make it harder for you to shop and cook.

  • Make and freeze meal-sized portions of soft foods like soups, stews and casseroles before treatment starts. Make them fairly bland in case you develop a sore throat. Once spice is in a dish, you can't take it out. If your throat is fine, you can always spice up your meal at the table.
  • Keep easy-to-prepare foods on hand. A can of salmon in the cupboard and cheese in the refrigerator will make nutritious snacks when you cannot cook.
  • When friends and family offer to help, let them! Have a list ready. People are often at a loss of what to do, so they are looking to you for direction. Ask your friend who is a good cook for a freezable meal. Ask your friend who lives close by for help with shopping.
  • Consider trying an affordable home meal delivery service that can send ready-made entrees and sides right to your doorstep. These meals can be stored in the fridge or freezer, and heated up in the microwave. Most services will offer a variety of meals to choose from, and you can pick how many meals you want each week. ​

These tips will help you eat well during treatment. If you are not able to maintain your weight, ask to see a registered dietitian for more advice. ​


Last reviewed: 10/24/2023
Last modified: 10/25/2023 9:25 AM
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