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Nutrition Guidelines for Clinical Trial Participants

Eating well during a cancer clinical trial has a direct impact on the body.  It helps improve overall wellbeing, enhances response to treatment, enables health maintenance during treatment, and decreases recovery time. Here are some specific nutrition guidelines to make the best food choices throughout clinical trial treatment.

Eat a wide variety of colors of fruits and vegetables every day. 

  • Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals that fight against cancer. Each color contains a different phytochemical. A wide variety of colors introduces more types of these cancer fighting chemicals into the body.
  • Choose organic varieties when available to limit exposure to chemicals and pesticides. Wash all fruits and vegetables very well.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great alternative to fresh and are easy to have available when treatments are so time consuming.

Be aware of any food and drink that may interfere with study treatment.

  • The most common foods and drinks that may be an issue are: grapefruit, grapefruit juice, starfruit, Seville oranges, and pomegranate.
  • Always refer to the study doctor or member of the research team for specific advice and questions.
  • When in doubt, ask.

Choose complex carbohydrates for increased energy.

  • Eat complex carbohydrates like whole grains (oats, wheat, brown rice, whole wheat pasta). These are digested more slowly due to their higher fiber content which will offer sustained energy over a longer period of time.
  • Avoid highly processed and refined grains (white flour, baked goods, and snack foods).
  • Incorporate whole grains into snacking by having whole grain crackers with a source of protein such as cheese, peanut butter, chicken salad or tuna salad.

Be sure to get an adequate amount of lean protein.

  • Choose lean protein such as beans, fish, and omega 3 rich eggs. Eat white meat chicken and turkey.  Limit red meat, pork, and dark meat poultry. Choose organic, locally farmed, free range, and grain fed when available. Other good sources of protein are nuts and tofu.
  • Aim for at least 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 150 pound person needs about 102 grams of protein each day. For reference, one ounce of meat contains about 7 grams of protein. Protein helps the body to repair cells and tissues. It also aids in the recovery and maintenance of the immune system.
  • To insure getting enough protein, have a protein serving at every meal and snack.

Incorporate good fats into meals and snacks.

  • Eliminate fried foods and eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados, fish, and nuts.
  • Avoid Trans fats and avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated oils.

Limit added sugars. 

  • Choose fruit to satisfy cravings for sweets
  • Learn more about reducing sugar intake here.

Drink plenty of water.

  • Staying hydrated during treatment is essential.  Too much caffeine may lead to dehydration.
  • Green tea and white tea are also good beverage options for staying hydrated with some additional antioxidants.
  • Aim for 64 ounces per day.  Start slowly and gradually increase water intake.

Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.

  • Smaller meals help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
  • Smaller meals may help to minimize treatment related side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Maintain weight during cancer treatment.

  • Strict dieting is not recommended during cancer treatment. Eat healthy by following these guidelines.  Inadequately fueling the body can lead to decreased ability to fight infection and reduced energy levels.
  • It is normal for weight to fluctuate some during treatment. Drastic weight gain or weight loss is not recommended.
  • If weight loss becomes an issue during treatment, these guidelines may be altered to more adequately meet nutrition needs. A nutrition supplement may also be necessary.
  • For guidance on any weight issue, consult with a registered dietitian.

Pay attention to any noticeable changes when participating in a clinical trial.

  • Alert a research nurse of anything new that begins after starting clinical trial treatment.
  • Keep notes for any changes including details, date, and time.  Have information available for the research nurse and healthcare team.
  • Ask a research nurse if there are any known nutrition related side effects while taking the agent or medication. A registered dietitian can provide suggestions for managing nutrition related side effects.

Prepare and store food safely.

  • Wash hands often while preparing food and strive to minimize risk for food borne illness.  Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables as well as separate knives.  Refrigerate leftovers right away.
  • To minimize exposure to germs, avoid salad bars and buffets during treatment.


  • Getting some physical activity is very beneficial during treatment. It does not have to be strenuous. Walking is fine. Exercise causes the release of endorphins (feel good chemicals in the brain) and helps in maintaining muscle mass, strength, and stamina.
  • Be realistic and start slowly. Exercise can help to minimize stress and depression. It can also help alleviate constipation.

Nutrition Supplements

  • Choose food first as the primary source for vitamin and minerals. Ask a registered dietitian for guidance on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition supplements.
  • Do not start taking anything new during treatment without alerting your research nurse and healthcare team first. There is potential interaction between some medications as well as supplements.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

  • Alcohol may contribute to dehydration, impair the immune system, and place added stress on the liver.
  • Alcohol, like simple sugars, provides empty calories without any nutrients.
  • During treatment many health care providers recommend avoiding alcohol.