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Nutrition Suggestions for Mouth Sores

Mae Reilly, MS, RD, LDN

Cancer treatments including radiation, chemotherapy and other cancer medications may cause mouth sores. Mouth sores can make eating challenging, which can result in decreased oral intake and unintentional weight loss. Here are some tips that can help you manage mouth sores and stay well nourished.

Choose softer foods

Soft foods are easier to chew and swallow and are less likely to aggravate mouth sores.

  • For breakfast, consider hot cereal like oatmeal or grits, eggs, French toast, pancakes, cottage cheese, yogurt or smoothies.
  • Try lunch options like soups and stews, tuna or egg salad, quiche or frittatas.
    Some options for side dishes might be cooked vegetables, sweet or white potatoes, macaroni and cheese, beans, cottage cheese, pasta, lentils or risotto.
  • For dinner consider fish, tofu, meatloaf, meatballs, crab cakes, casseroles or crockpot chicken.
  • Snack options might include smoothies, sardines, hummus or bean dip, yogurt, cottage cheese, apple sauce or hard-boiled eggs.

Avoid foods that can aggravate mouth sores

  • Stay away from tomatoes or tomato sauce, citrus fruits and or anything that is very salty or spicy, because these foods may increase the discomfort associated with mouth sores.
  • Avoid foods with rough edges like chips, crackers and toast.
  • Carbonated beverages can also cause more discomfort.

Modify foods and liquids to make them easier to tolerate

  • Cut food into small pieces, eat slowly and chew well. You may even consider using a food processor or blender to puree some foods.
  • Add extra moisture to foods by adding broth, sauces or gravy
  • Try drinking liquids through a straw, which can help bypass the painful parts in your mouth.
  • Room temperature foods and liquids may be the easiest to tolerate

If you are eating less, try adding healthy fats to foods for caloric enrichment

  • Add creamy nut butters to hot cereals or smoothies.
  • Cook with more olive or avocado oil. One tablespoon of oil is about 120 calories. This is a great way to add more nutrition without increasing the volume of food you are eating.
  • If pureeing or blending foods, add olive oil. It will blend right in and add an extra source of calories.
  • Include avocado at meals and snacks if it is something you enjoy.

Prioritize protein-rich foods

Protein is necessary for the growth and repair of all cells in your body, including red blood cells, white blood cells, muscles and hormones. Protein also helps your body heal. Protein is composed of amino acids, some of which cannot be made by your body. It is therefore important to try to incorporate protein-rich foods at meals and snacks. Protein can be found in both animal and plant-based foods. Some softer animal sources of protein include fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese and milk. Soft plant-based sources of protein include tofu, creamy nut butters, beans, lentils and whole grains. Some people may include protein drinks or powders to help meet their needs if they are unable to consume enough protein through whole foods. Daily protein requirements are individualized and differ person to person. Work with a registered dietitian to understand how much protein you need during cancer treatment.

Practice good oral hygiene

  • It is important to keep your mouth clean by rinsing after each meal and snack.
  • Brush your teeth according to the guidance provided by your care team.
  • You might consider using a baking soda–and–water mouth rinse, which can help keep your mouth clean and promote healing.

Meet with a registered dietitian.

A registered dietitian can come up with an individualized plan and help optimize your nutrition, help manage side effects and promote healing and recovery afterward.