After a bone marrow or cord blood transplant, eating a nutritious diet is important to help your immune system and body get stronger. Your transplant team or dietitian may give you a special diet to follow. You may need more protein or more calories than usual. You may also need to avoid certain foods to protect yourself from the risk of infection. If you have mouth sores or other eating problems after your transplant, you can choose foods that make eating easier.
Ideas for making eating easier and more enjoyable
Many transplant recipients experience a decrease in appetite or a change in their taste buds. These are temporary side effects of treatment. Work with your dietitian to plan meals that are both satisfying and nutritious.
For some people, treatment side effects and/or graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) of the gut can make it hard to eat well after transplant. If you have eating problems, there are things you can do to manage them.
- Use pre-packaged, single-serving foods that are safe and easy.
- Rinse your mouth with a solution of water and baking soda before eating.
- Try chilled or frozen foods.
- If food tastes metallic, use plastic utensils and try mint or ginger to cover the taste.
- Eat small amounts throughout the day instead of larger meals.
- Drink six to eight glasses daily of fluids such as water, sports drinks, juice or clear broth.
- If your gastrointestinal tract is irritated, avoid fried, fatty, spicy and acidic foods, such as tomato juice. Eat foods high in potassium such as bananas and potatoes.
- Help prevent diarrhea by eating low fiber foods like white bread, rice, eggs, potatoes, cooked fish and chicken without skin.
Ask the dietician at your hospital for additional ideas. The table below shows a list of eating problems some people face after transplant and tips for managing these problems. Most of these problems go away over time.
Eating Problem and Ways to Manage It
- It may be easier to eat if you have several small meals throughout the day instead of a few large meals.
- If there are times of day when you are hungry, eat more at those times.
- Choose foods that are high in protein and calories when you are able to eat.
- Try liquid or powdered meal replacements.
- Be sure to drink enough liquids even if you cannot eat.
Mouth and throat sores
- Eat foods that are lukewarm or cold, rather than hot.
- Try soft foods that may irritate your mouth less. Some examples are milkshakes, creamed soups, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese.
- Try cold foods such as cottage cheese, yogurt, watermelon, gelatin or ice cream.
- Avoid foods that can irritate your mouth. This includes citrus fruits or juices, tomato sauce, spicy or salty foods and rough or dry foods like raw vegetables, toast or crackers.
- Your doctor may be able to give you medicine that will help the pain.
- Drink water frequently.
- Try very sweet or tart foods or drinks, such as lemonade, which may help your mouth water.
- Add sauces, gravies and dressings to food.
- Suck on sugar-free hard candies, gum, ice chips or popsicles.
- Talk to your doctor or dentist about using an artificial saliva product.
Changed sense of taste or smell - foods taste metallic or bitter or have no taste
- See if food with strong flavors, including spicy foods and tart foods, are more appealing.
- Try chicken, turkey or eggs. Some people with this problem find them more appealing than red meat, such as beef.
- Use plastic forks and spoons if food has a metallic taste. Or use mint or ginger to cover the taste.
Nausea and vomiting
- Ask your doctor about medications that could help.
- Try foods that are easy on your stomach, such as toast, crackers, rice, canned peaches, or clear liquids.
- Avoid foods that are fatty, greasy or have strong flavors or odors.
- Eat small amounts more often.
- Sip liquids slowly through a straw, and drink small amounts throughout the day.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Eat small amounts of food more often.
- Avoid fatty or greasy foods.
- Avoid high-fiber foods such as bran, whole grain bread and raw vegetables.
- Some foods to try include: yogurt, cottage cheese, rice, noodles, smooth peanut butter, white bread, bananas, canned fruits, and skinned chicken or turkey, lean beef or fish (broiled or baked, not fried).
Lactose intolerance (your body cannot digest the milk sugar called lactose)
- Talk to a dietitian about how to follow a low-lactose diet.
Dining away from home
Talk to your doctor about when it is safe to visit restaurants. Avoid crowds by calling ahead and visiting during off times.
Foods and venues to AVOID when dining out
Avoid foods that you don't know how they were prepared or stored.
- Ice from ice machines and soda fountains
- Sodas from fountain machines
- Pot lucks
- Salad bars
- Soft-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt from machines
- Free samples
- Unrefrigerated cream
- Food from sidewalk vendors
- Foods containing raw eggs (Caesar salads, custards, cookie dough)
- Sushi, raw fish, smoked fish