Working with a Dietitian

When you are first diagnosed with cancer, you may be shocked and overwhelmed. One of the last things on your mind is likely your nutrition. However, research shows that good nutrition while going through treatment has been shown to give people a better chance at recovering. You may be under a lot of stress physically and emotionally from the cancer, the treatment or side effects, and your body will benefit from the extra energy from food. Once you understand how the right food habits are an essential part of treatment into survivorship, you may be excited to begin doing what you can to help make your treatment plan more successful.

The dietitian is an important resource. Ideally, you will meet with one very soon after diagnosis. If your health care team doesn’t have a dietitian on staff, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian, request a nutrition consultation or use the resources provided on this site.

How Dietitians Work With You

Dietitians play an important and valuable role on your cancer treatment team. They develop a personalized nutrition plan with these goals in mind:

  1. Prevent your treatment from being interrupted due to malnutrition.
  2. Ease the side effects of treatment.
  3. Improve overall quality of life

Your dietitian will work with you and your caregiver to develop a nutrition plan specifically for you. You will discuss misinformation about nutrition, fad diets and “miracle” cures, as well as questions about common concerns, such as poor appetite, not being able to drink enough or how to handle taste changes. Your dietitian will listen to your concerns and develop a meal plan based around your nutritional needs while addressing your unique taste preferences and the foods you can tolerate. Your dietitian may also function as a liaison between you and your medical team, helping to relay or explain information, and serve as an advocate for you.

Tip from the Dietitian

“Your nutrition is specific to YOU and has to involve a lasting change in how you view food. The hard truth is that no fad diet is going to fit your situation perfectly, and no short-term change is going to significantly improve your long-term health. The best option is to seek the services of a registered dietitian and ask for a meal plan that fits your needs.”

         - Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, registered dietitian, PearlPoint Nutrition Services

What to Expect at the First Meeting

Before you go to your first appointment with a dietitian, it’s a good idea to make a list of questions or concerns you may have. Bring a list of your typical diet or food diary and if you have any questions about any food or supplement, bring in a package of it or photo of the item, including the food label and ingredients list. It is also helpful if you take the caregiver who will be responsible for buying groceries and making the meals to make sure everyone is on the same page.

At your initial meeting, your dietitian will likely evaluate you and your current nutritional status to identify any deficiencies. Don’t worry if your diet has not been 100 percent healthy. Dietitians don’t focus on the past food choices you made. Their role is to educate you so you can make better choices for the future.

The dietitian will talk with you about your diagnosis and set nutritional goals accordingly. Together, you’ll plan how to meet those goals. You will likely receive easy, practical tips you can use on a daily basis as well as several recipes and recommended foods. In addition, some dietary supplements and vitamins may be recommended for you. Some top concerns that likely will be addressed include how to deal with weight loss, weight gain, fatigue or nausea or other troublesome side effects.

Your dietitian will adjust your goals as treatment goes on to address your changing nutritional needs, including weight gain, weight loss, appetite challenges and more. You will be closely monitored for signs of malnutrition so that you don’t lose lean body mass and develop other complications.

Myth vs. Fact

Myth: Sugar “feeds” cancer cells.
Fact: Sugar, as a type of carbohydrate, feeds all cells, including cancer cells. However, depriving your cells of sugar will not necessarily slow cancer cell growth. Sugar is more concerning as a cause of weight gain, but in many survivors a small amount of weight gain isn’t typically a problem. You shouldn’t cut sugar out of your diet if there is no medical reason (e.g., diabetes).
- Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, registered dietitian, PearlPoint Nutrition Services


Myth: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer.
Fact: Studies of artificial sweeteners have found no evidence they cause cancer in people.


Myth: Herbal products can cure cancer.
Fact: Although some studies indicate that alternative or complementary therapies may help with side effects of cancer treatment, none have been proven to treat cancer. Some of these therapies may even make cancer treatments less effective. Always talk with your doctor before taking any alternative or complementary products.


Myth: Eating superfoods will prevent cancer.
Fact: There is no one item that is a “superfood.” A balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods is recommended.


Myth: Cancer thrives in an acidic environment.
Fact: Researchers have found no link that a person’s diet can change the body’s pH level to the point it will affect cancer.