Diet

Diet for Cancer Patients: Foods to Add and Avoid

Cancer patients often face difficulties maintaining a healthy level of nutrition. This can be attributed to a lack of interest in food, reduced appetite, changes in taste due to treatment, and side effects like vomiting and diarrhoea. The lack of nutrition can result in further problems for patients, such as weakness and increased vulnerability to infection. It could eventually lead to an inability to continue cancer treatment or interrupt the ongoing treatments. 

A proper diet is vital throughout the cancer journey to maintain optimal body function. Knowing what foods to eat can help the patients deal with the disease. The right mix of nutrients and calories can minimise the side effects that often come with cancer treatments. In addition, eating a healthy diet during treatment gives your body additional strength to heal.

Foods to Add to Cancer Diet Chart

Your diet varies based on the type of cancer treatment and your health at the time of diagnosis. The focus is mainly on a healthy intake of calories and protein. Sometimes, you may need to follow a clear, liquid diet. Although it is not nutritionally adequate, following a liquid diet for a short period can help control symptoms and side effects.

Here are some foods you can include:

Cruciferous Vegetables

They can fight against cancer and cancer recurrence. A study shows that the plant compounds in cruciferous veggies have anti-proliferative and anti-tumorigenic properties. It can decrease uncontrolled cell growth of tumours. The bioactive compounds in cruciferous vegetables also promote the detoxification of certain carcinogenic enzymes.

Include cruciferous vegetables such as:

Protein

High protein intake helps to rebuild strength, repair the damaged cells, and provide energy post-chemotherapy. Before starting your treatment, gradually increase your protein intake to prevent muscle loss. Sarcopenia or muscle loss is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.

Some good sources of protein include:

  • Beans
  • Lean meat like chicken
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Lentils
  • Fatty fish or freshwater fish
  • Yoghurt
  • Tofu
  • Paneer
  • Oats

Read more– High Protein Foods To Include In Your Diet. 

Berries

They are the richest source of polyphenols and anthocyanins. The berries’ skin, seeds and leaves contain anthocyanins and other flavonoids. They have antioxidant properties beneficial for managing cancer symptoms. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries show promising potential to prevent cancer.

A study says that edible berries prevent cancer, primarily of the GI tract and breast. The phytochemicals in berries can also help a lesser degree of prostate, liver, pancreas and lung cancer. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is well known for its immunity-enhancing nature. Since cancer patients often experience poor immunity, consuming some vitamin C-rich foods is a good way to help prevent further health complications. 

The following foods are good sources of vitamin C:

  • One medium raw red pepper: 226 mg
  • One medium raw green pepper: 106 mg
  • 1 cup orange juice with pulp: 124 mg
  • One medium orange: 69 mg
  • 1 cup cubed papaya: 86 mg
  • 1/2 cup cooked broccoli: 58 mg

Garlic

Studies show that consuming high levels of Allium vegetables, such as garlic, leads to a lower risk of stomach cancer. Cancer patients can include one clove or approximately 2–5 grams of fresh garlic daily to reap the health-promoting properties. A few other allium vegetables like onions, leeks and shallots also possess similar benefits.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help delay tumour development in breast and prostate cancer to some extent. Since your body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, you must get them from food or supplements. However, avoiding omega-3 fatty acid supplements in a cancer diet is better. Instead, here are some recommended foods high in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Flaxseed oil and powder. 
  • Beans such as kidney, great northern, navy, beans
  • Walnuts 

Seafood or cold-water fish: aim for three to four servings of these fish every week

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Lake trout
  • Halibut

The HealthifyMe Note

The caloric and nutrient requirement is very high post-chemotherapy. Therefore, consume calorie-dense, high in protein, moderate in fats, and easy-to-digest foods. In addition, a cancer diet should include cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant-rich fruits, leafy greens, vitamin C, and plant-based proteins. 

The Worst Food Groups for Cancer

One must avoid foods that are not part of a cancer-prevention diet. Here are the common foods to avoid in a cancer patient’s diet menu. 

Processed Meat 

Processed meats get preserved by salting, fermentation, smoking or curing. Bacon, hot dogs, beef jerky and deli meats are some examples. The chemical preservatives in processed meats make them an unhealthy choice in all diets. 

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A study shows that high processed meat intake increases the risk of colorectal, breast, colon, rectal, and lung cancers. Since it is a carcinogen with preservatives like nitrates and nitrites, cancer patients should avoid eating processed meats. 

A lot of processed meats also contain quite a bit of sodium. Limiting sodium during cancer treatment is important to prevent fluid retention from becoming an issue. 

Charred Meat

Charring meat at high temperatures releases chemicals called heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. HCAs and PAHs are carcinogens. A study shows that HCAs and PAHs from red meat encourage colon cancer carcinogenesis.

Use low-heat or moist heat methods like baking, braising or stewing when cooking animal proteins. These cooking methods do not raise the temperature to char the meat. As a result, you can avoid the formation of cancer-causing compounds. 

Sugar-sweetened Beverages

Consuming sugary drinks leads to a caloric surplus and sugar crash. When you take in more calories than you burn, it leads to weight gain. Although unwanted weight loss is a problem for many people with cancer, gaining weight is not healthy either.

Research shows that sugary drinks are a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention. It means you can take measures to reduce cancer risk from consuming sugary drinks. For example, you can choose whole fruits instead of bottled juices. Unlike genetics, your eating habits are something you can control and positively affect the course of cancer development.

Refined Sugar

Refined sugars and added sugars serve as fuel for tumours, allowing them to grow in size. Also, they are more readily accessible to cancer cells. While it is true that sugar feeds cancer, cutting carbs out of your diet will not stop cancer from growing.

You need adequate carbohydrate intake for the body to tolerate cancer treatment. Therefore work towards reducing added sugars and high-sugar foods such as cakes, cookies, and sweetened beverages while maintaining your carb intake.

Alcohol

Alcohol and its major metabolite, called acetaldehyde, are tumour-inducing substances. When a cancer patient drinks alcohol, the body processes it and releases acetaldehyde. It can interfere with medications and invasive cancer treatments. 

For an average healthy person, drinking alcohol in moderation is fine. However, people who have cancer and undergoing treatment should strictly avoid alcohol, especially in the cases of oesophageal, liver, breast, or colorectal cancer. 

7-Day Diet Plan Chart for Cancer Patients

A diet chart for cancer patients aims to improve their food intake and prevent potential deficiencies. It, in turn, can enhance the treatment outcomes and the patient’s overall quality of life.

The given sample diet plan includes plenty of protein, fibre, and unrefined carbs, which meet the general dietary requirements for most cancer patients. However, always consult your oncologist and diet expert before following any new diet plan or making changes to an existing one.

These meal and snack ideas may not seem like low-calorie choices. However, a cancer diet is different from a weight loss diet. Since patients often have poor appetites, focusing on high-protein and high-calorie food and fluids is essential. It ensures your body gets all the energy it needs.

Day 1:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup Oatmeal with almonds and raisins
  • Lunch: 2 Mixed vegetable paratha + paneer curry (5-6 medium size pieces)
  • Dinner: 1/2 cup steamed semi-polished brown rice or quinoa + 1 bowl kadhi+ 1 cup cabbage sabzi
  • Snacks: Apple slices with unsweetened peanut butter or or 1 cup green tea with mixed nuts (Keep a gap of 30 minutes between green tea and nuts)

Day 2:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup oats porridge with a handful of soaked nuts
  • Lunch: 2 medium-sized baked and mashed sweet potatoes with boiled vegetables and butter or an egg white omellete
  • Dinner: Grilled fish + 1/2 cup brown rice + 1/2 cup vegetable salad
  • Snacks: 1 glass of milk+ 1 cup of boiled Bengal gram sprouts

Day 3:

  • Breakfast: 1 glass oats smoothie with chia seeds and a seasonal fruit
  • Lunch: 2 whole grain wheat roti + 1/2 cup, green peas or mushroom curry + 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Dinner: 2 Paneer stuffed moong dal chilla with mint chutney and 1 sliced cucumber sliced
  • Snacks: 4-5 each soaked dry fruits (almonds, raisins, figs, walnuts) + 1 cup of fresh fruit juice

Day 4:

  • Breakfast: 3-4 Idly +1/2 cup sambhar 
  • Lunch: 1 bowl organic rice + 1/2 cup mix-veg sambar
  • Dinner: 1 cup vegetable khichdi with cucumber raita+ 1 cup turmeric milk
  • Snacks: Or 1 glass milk with 1 tbsp mix seeds or 1 cup of green tea with a few lemon drops + 1 cup of mixed citrus fruits (Keep a gap of 30 minutes between green tea and fruits)

Day 5:

  • Breakfast: 1 glass of barley water + 1 cup Dalia vegetable upma with 1 tsp ghee 
  • Lunch: 1 cup paneer Pulao + 1 cup dal or kadhi + 1 cup curd or 1 cup capsicum tomato curry + 1 cup mix veg raita
  • Dinner: 1 cup of tomato soup with sauteed carrots on the side or broccoli soup with cooked quinoa and carrots
  • Snacks: 1 cup of yoghurt with berries and nuts

Day 6:

  • Breakfast: 2-3 French toast with fruit + 1 scrambled or poached egg
  • Lunch: 2-3 grilled chicken or mutton cutlets + mashed potato with butter, and peas and carrots
  • Dinner: Whole wheat or millet Noodles/Pasta with stir fried veggies and cottage cheese
  • Snacks: 1 glass of sugarfree mango lassi + two tofu multigrain bread sandwich

Day 7:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal with slivered almonds, cinnamon, and raisins
  • Lunch: 2 multigrain roti (mixed cereals ragi+wheat/bajra+jowar) + 1/2 cup curry of choice
  • Dinner: 1 cup green salad with assorted veggies and homemade dressing + grilled chicken
  • Snacks: 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter spread on two pieces of toast + avocado smoothie
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How to Plan a Diet Chart for Cancer Patients?

Finding a diet that helps you during your cancer treatment may seem challenging, but HealthifyMe can provide the guidance you need. The in-house dietitians can work with you and your oncologist to find the right dietary solutions. In addition, the data-driven nutrition therapy services from HealthifyMe equip you with evidence-based, individualised diet plans. 

A subscription to HealthifyPro unlocks access to a Pro Nutritionist and Fitness Trainer. They will answer your nutrition-related questions and help you make informed choices. All these can help you adjust to life after a cancer diagnosis. 

Each patient’s dietary needs will vary once the cancer treatment begins. Therefore, discussing your calorie and protein requirements with your nutritionist is essential. In addition, some cancers cause hypermetabolism, affecting how the body uses proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. As a result, it can cause sudden weight loss and nutrient deficiency. In such cases, you need to increase your calorie and protein intake.

If you have hypermetabolism, the new dietary recommendations you receive will look like the opposite of a healthy diet. The main goal is to keep your weight constant and avoid weakness. So, you must follow a high-calorie, high-protein diet, especially if you are underweight.

The HealthifyMe Note

Cancer patients often eat less than usual due to the side effects of treatment. Hence, diets must consider foods that contain more calories per serving as a temporary measure. It can help maintain weight and energy levels. However, it is only appropriate for a brief time. You should resume healthy food choices and regular-size portions when your appetite improves. 

Conclusion

A well-balanced diet is necessary before, during and after cancer treatment. Healthy food choices can lower the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and other cancer treatments. However, the nutrient needs of cancer patients vary from person to person. Hence, a clinical dietitian can help identify and plan your diet to meet your unique nutrition goals. 

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A proper cancer diet chart during treatment is part of your healing regimen. Hence, prepare a diet based on how much and what types of food you can comfortably eat. Although there are multiple dietary supplements and herbal products in the market, you must always prioritise whole foods. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the best diet for cancer patients?

A. Most often, the best diet depends on the specific type of cancer. Nonetheless, foods high in protein, healthy fats, whole grains, vitamins and minerals are vital. It is better to follow a diet based on plant-based proteins because most cancer patients tolerate them better than animal proteins. Light, bland, or liquid diets are suitable for those in the advanced stages of treatment. 

Q. What food should cancer patients avoid?

A. Cancer patients must avoid highly refined, processed food. It is also best to avoid inflammatory foods, such as fried foods containing hydrogenated oils. In addition, people with cancer often develop compromised immune systems. Therefore, skip raw eggs, unwashed fruits or vegetables, lightly cooked fish, sushi, and unpasteurised dairy. Or try to avoid any foods with the risk of foodborne illnesses. 

Q. What are the top 5 cancer-fighting foods?

A. No single food can protect someone against cancer completely. However, if you add them to your diet, cancer-fighting foods may lower the risk of developing cancer. Tomatoes, berries, garlic, cruciferous vegetables, and green leafy vegetables are the top 5 cancer-fighting foods. Non-vegetarians can add salmon, mackerel, anchovies or freshwater fish. 

Q. Which fruit is good for cancer?

A. It is best to choose a fruit depending on your cancer symptoms or predisposition. The phytonutrients in berries, such as blackberries, act as cancer-fighting agents. The polyphenols in apples also possess anticancer and tumour-fighting properties. Some other options are dragon fruit, goji berries, citrus fruits, cherries, and pomegranates.

Q. What is the best breakfast for cancer patients?

A. Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it should comprise enough protein, fats, carbs, fibre, and calories. Some healthy options include oatmeal with fresh fruit, chickpea pancakes, smoothies, fermented foods like dosa or idli, and toast. In addition, smoothies, soups, juice, oats, porridge, and other foods with mousse consistency will be better for patients having difficulty swallowing. 

The Supporting Sources

1. Royston, K. J., & Tollefsbol, T. O. (2015). The Epigenetic Impact of Cruciferous Vegetables on Cancer Prevention. Current pharmacology reports, 1(1), 46–51. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354933/

2. Kristo AS, Klimis-Zacas D, Sikalidis AK. Protective Role of Dietary Berries in Cancer. Antioxidants (Basel). 2016;5(4):37. Published 2016 Oct 19. doi:10.3390/antiox5040037

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5187535/

3. Zhou, Y., Zhuang, W., Hu, W., Liu, G. J., Wu, T. X., & Wu, X. T. (2011). Consumption of large amounts of Allium vegetables reduces the risk for gastric cancer in a meta-analysis. Gastroenterology, 141(1), 80–89. 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21473867/

4. Farvid, M.S., Sidahmed, E., Spence, N.D. et al. Consumption of red meat and processed meat and cancer incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol 36, 937–951 (2021). 

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-021-00741-9

5. Helmus, D. S., Thompson, C. L., Zelenskiy, S., Tucker, T. C., & Li, L. (2013). Red meat-derived heterocyclic amines increase risk of colon cancer: a population-based case-control study. Nutrition and cancer, 65(8), 1141–1150. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045458/

6. Chazelas E, Srour B, Desmetz E, et al. Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ. 2019;366:l2408. Published 2019 Jul 10. 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31292122/

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