What to Eat When You Have Cancer

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What to Eat When You Have Cancer

“Eat whatever you want.”

“Eliminate sugar.”

“Eat clean and detoxify.”

“Keto cures!”

As soon as we’re diagnosed with cancer, we’re constantly bombarded by messages about how to eat. From the grocery store checkout line to ads and recipes online, everyone seems to have an idea of what’s best for us.

You know what you eat is important, but what’s important if you want to slow the growth of cancer cells, boost your energy, get through chemo, or recover from surgery? And what if all you want to do is curl up under a blanket and eat for comfort? Is that so bad?

Body, mind, and spirit eating

We’re here to give you a message you won’t hear everywhere else. The message of integrative health is that the whole person – the whole you – matters. Body, mind, and spirit are all involved in healing. And in eating.

What to eat when you have cancer becomes more complex and simpler at the same time. More complex because there is no single, easy answer. Simpler if you remember to nurture the whole you.

Your body

Your body needs energy. It also needs anti-inflammatory foods and drinks to combat the inflammation and cellular distress happening with the growth of cancer cells and the action of treatment.

If you are losing weight without trying, your doctor or other health-care provider may tell you to eat whatever you feel like eating. Their goal is to keep calories flowing into your system to help combat the loss of muscle tissue and strength that can happen with cancer. But nutritious proteins serve your body better than heavily processed foods or fast food.

Your mind

Your mind likely needs calm and clarity. When you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis, focus can be difficult or impossible. Anti-inflammatory foods and drinks help here, too. Massive doses of caffeine and sugar won’t help you sleep or relax, and they will lead to energy crashes. They jack your body up and let it drop. When your body and mind are busy dealing with cancer, it’s best to minimize stress. Consider an alternative to coffee such as matcha, which has a calming energy and anti-cancer effects.

Your spirit

Pushing yourself to eat perfectly—no processed food, no junk food, only the highest quality proteins—may or may not help you here. You may already be wondering, “Did I give myself cancer? Is this my fault?” Holding yourself to a higher nutrition standard than ever before can create stress—or even guilt, if you eat a fish sandwich from your favorite drive-through instead of grilled fish from the specialty market. Perfection is the enemy of good, and in cancer there is no perfection, only good.

Our Pocket Guide to Cancer and Nutrition describes how something comforting and delicious—even mac and cheese or a milkshake—can be healing. Eating with other people has emotional and spiritual power, too, so preparing or bringing home foods your family enjoys will help support everyone during the cancer journey.

Free guide to nutrition and cancer

We’ve created a new Pocket Guide about nutrition when you or someone you love has cancer. You may want to share it with your oncologist and others on your health-care team. Download the free guide.

You may be surprised to know that anti-cancer eating is very similar to a basic healthy eating plan.  Supporting your body with food can help you stay active during cancer treatment, boost your immune system and energy, and reduce inflammation for better health. You may want to check out some of our other complementary Pocket Guides:


Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands Drawing on 40 years of research and patient care, Dr. Wayne Jonas explains how 80 percent of healing occurs organically and how to activate the healing process. Learn More