Apple A Day

21st Century Oncology Blog

Apple A Day

21st Century Oncology Blog

Nutrition for Cancer Patients

June 18, 2018

The food we eat energizes our bodies and minds. But did you know it could also act as medicine? For cancer patients, proper nutrition is one of the keys to recovery, in tandem with treatments prescribed by a general physician and oncologist. Eating the right diet won’t cure your cancer, but it will help you feel a lot better and fuel your body during treatment.

Learn how to fight cancer with a healthy, balanced diet, with help from 21st Century Oncology. Discover what foods to avoid during radiation treatment and what food groups will assist your body during and after cancer treatment.

What to Eat During and After Cancer Treatment

Your body needs quality fuel to repair and rebuild itself. It’s up to you to provide your body with nutritious food. Use the suggestions below to optimize your diet for healthy living.


Mom was right – you should eat your vegetables. Vegetables are loaded with cancer-fighting compounds like vitamin D and E. If possible, purchase organic produce to avoid exposure to herbicides and pesticides. Since produce tastes the best and has the most nutrients as soon as it is harvested, try to shop around at local farmer’s markets or buy local produce at the grocery store. Aim for eating two to three cups of vegetables per day. Here are some of the most nutritious options:

  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, collards)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
  • Beets
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms – They’re not a vegetable, but many mushrooms provide beneficial vitamins and are a great addition to a veggie-loaded meal!


Fruits are a nutritional powerhouse that taste great and provide your body with the nutrition it needs. They’re also packed with antioxidants, which are compounds that help your body fight back against illnesses. Make a smoothie or eat them fresh – do whatever you can to incorporate one and a half to two cups of fruit per day into your diet. If possible, buy organic to avoid unnecessary exposure to herbicides and pesticides.

Fruits to keep on hand at your home:

  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Grapes
  • Bananas
  • Apples

Other Foods that Fight Cancer

  • Nuts and seeds
    • Almonds, flax, chia, hemp, walnuts and more make great additions to smoothies and salads. They also provide the dense calories and nutrition your body needs to recover.
  • Probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt)
    • These “live” foods promote healthy gut bacteria, taste great and will make any boring meal shine. Plop a spoonful of kimchi on eggs, trade beer for kombucha or mix fruit with yogurt.
  • Organic meats
    • Meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. Organic meats are packed with nutrition and vitamins. Aim for small servings, two to three times per week, and supplement meat with a vegetable dish. 
  • Wild fish
    • Avoid farmed fish, which can contain harmful chemicals. Wild-caught salmon or cod are a great protein source and provide the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs.
  • Unrefined oils (olive oil, coconut oil)
    • These oils contain fatty acids that promote healthy immune function and provide dense calories to help you feel full without overeating.
  • Fresh herbs and spices
    • Turmeric, curry and fresh herbs turn any meal up a notch and contain many cancer-fighting compounds. Have a green thumb? Tending a small herb garden is a great way to stay busy and get fresh herbs at a moment’s notice.

Best Ways to Prepare Cancer-Fighting Food

Canned, Frozen or Fresh?

Fresh fruits and vegetables have the most nutritional value. However, something is better than nothing. If you can’t find fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t avoid them. Frozen vegetables can be easier to prepare than fresh ones, especially if they’re pre-chopped, and they’re great when you want out-of-season vegetables. If you must use canned vegetables or fruits, use them sparingly and read the labels. Canned foods can contain excessive amounts of sodium or sugar.

For the best results, eat with the seasons. Seasonal produce is fresh, has the highest nutritional value, is most affordable and can usually be found locally.

Raw or Cooked?

Cooking foods makes the nutrients easier to absorb. However, eating raw vegetables is still beneficial. Cook vegetables in unusual ways if you want to give your palate and plate variety – steam, sauté, roast, puree or blanch! Think outside the skillet: grilled romaine lettuce, baked peaches, cauliflower rice, stewed tomatoes, stir-fried pineapple or pickled carrots. Remember that vegetables don’t have to be boring. Get creative to put a spin on typical dishes: Make pizza with riced cauliflower crust, or buy a spiralizer to make noodles out of zucchini, sweet potatoes or carrots.

Just like anything in life, moderation is important, especially when fighting or preventing cancer. Variety is key for good nutritional balance – switch up recipes, and don’t be afraid to substitute or experiment. Don’t settle on one dish or food group; branch out and try new recipes or food combinations. And remember: Always drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day for proper hydration. (A 150-pound person should drink at least 75 ounces of water.)  

What Foods to Avoid During and After Cancer Treatment

Just as food can help people during cancer treatment, it can also hurt them. Certain food groups should be avoided during and after cancer treatment. This list also applies to those wondering what foods to avoid during radiation treatment.

While there is only anecdotal evidence that these foods may give you cancer, it’s smart to avoid them to maintain your overall health. You’ve done all the hard work (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation), so why not take ownership of your diet and avoid the foods that could be hurting you?

Foods to avoid during and after cancer treatment:

  • Processed meat
    • Processed meats contain certain unhealthy additives to improve taste and prolong freshness. This includes foods like bacon, sausage and hot dogs. Avoid these foods, even though they taste great, to help your body recover.
  • Alcohol
    • Avoiding alcohol during radiation treatment can help you overcome the nausea and general uneasy feelings associated with radiation. Even if you’re done with treatment, keep alcohol out of your diet at all costs.
  • Fried or burned foods
    • Fried foods contain unnecessary calories and grease that simply don’t do your body any good, especially during radiation or other cancer treatments. In addition, burned foods contain carcinogens, which are cancer-causing molecules that you should avoid.
  • Foods high in additives
    • Avoid processed foods that are high in additives. If you can’t pronounce or identify the ingredients, consider opting for a healthier alternative.  
  • Added sugar
    • Sugar doesn’t just add unneeded calories that may lead to weight gain; some studies show that it can increase your risk of cancer. Natural sugars from fruit are OK to consume, but avoid sweets, baked goods and other sweetened items, even if they contain only artificial sweeteners.

Don’t Stress Yourself Out

Eating a nutrient-dense diet is one of the best (and tastiest) ways to prevent and/or treat cancer. However, don’t get stressed out about following a rigid diet, or your efforts may have the opposite therapeutic effect.

Try meal prepping to avoid diet stress. Click here to watch a video about our favorite meal prep tips for families and caregivers.

We’re Committed to Your Health

21st Century Oncology wants to help our patients thrive during cancer treatment or remission. To learn more about how to take care of your body and live well, visit our blog.