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What Foods are Good and Bad for a Cancer Diet?

An example of foods for a cancer diet healthy meal, made with grilled chicken, sliced yellow squash, bell peppers, carrots and grean beans

With the holiday season is upon us and the new year is just around the corner. It’s a fantastic time to reevaluate the foods we consume and how it affects our long-term health. Our diets and daily nutrition play a considerable role in overcoming illnesses. If you’re diagnosed with a serious health condition like cancer, it is imperative to choose the best foods for your diet.

A cancer diagnosis can completely alter a person’s normal flow of life. From exhausting treatments to seemingly endless appointments, it can be difficult to find time to eat healthy. As a cancer patient, maintaining your health should be priority number one, and you can start with your diet.

A diet for someone living with cancer is important since it’s the fuel you give your body to rebound from treatments and fight the disease. However, not all foods are optimal for a cancer diet. Let’s review some common foods you should include and exclude from your diet based on macronutrients.


One of the most important macronutrients is protein. Proteins play an especially important role in cancer patients to help maintain muscle mass and healthy body weight. Chemotherapy treatments can cause muscle depletion – as it disrupts the protein-storing process in the body. 

These complications mean that cancer patients should make smarter protein choices in their regular diet as compared to non-cancer patients. Some of the foods cancer survivors should consider for their protein intake are:

  • Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Cheese

While there are plenty more appropriate proteins for a cancer diet, you should always consult with your primary care doctor or dietician to ensure you aren’t limiting your body from a required nutrient. Their expertise will help ensure none of the consumed foods are detrimental to your health or conflict with the prescribed treatment.

Be Mindful with These Proteins

In fact, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important to stay away from red meats and processed meats. These two protein groups can provoke inflammation which can further promote cancer cell growth. Red meat and most processed meats also contain nitrates and nitrites. Researches found that nitrates and nitrites could cause cancer amongst other health issues. Outside of nitrites, many red meats that cook at high temperatures release heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic amines (PCAs) which have been linked to stomach and colorectal cancers.

When trying to add protein into your diet, make sure you’re choosing clean white meats, such as chicken or fish. These cleaner proteins will provide you with the strength and energy you need to live a normal day-to-day life, without sacrificing your health.


This macronutrient that’s more commonly referred to as “carbs” can be one of the more difficult factors to optimize in any diet. With so many foods containing carbs like pastas, fruits, breads, etc., it can be difficult to know which ones are good or bad for general health. The important thing to know about carbs is whether or not the glucose (sugar) in the food you’re consuming is simple or complex. In general, complex carbs are healthier and should be included in diets over simple carbs.

Simple Carb v.s. Compex Carbs

A simple carb is a carbohydrate that the body breaks down quickly, which provides a faster energy boost – but isn’t sustainable in the long run. Simple carbs often lack nutritional value and can be found in items like candy bars, sugary drinks, and chips. Complex carbs on the other hand take longer to break down and provide a more stable source of energy than a simple carb.

What Carbs to Choose for a Cancer Diet

So how do carbs play into the diet of a cancer patient? The answer is choosing complex carbs that provide more nutritional value and are less processed. Some great complex carb choices to include in a cancer diet are:

  • Brown and wild rice
  • Whole grains
  • Non-fried potatoes
  • Whole wheat bread

Even though simple carbs can be associated with processed foods, there are some unprocessed simple carbs that are beneficial in a cancer patient’s diet. Here are some simple carbs that are good in moderation:

  • Raw fruits such as bananas or mangos
  • Non-processed honey
  • Milk and some dairy products

Raw fruits, specifically berries are especially valuable because they are a main source of antioxidants. Antioxidants do many fantastic things for the human body and have the ability to balance free radicals within cells. Free radicals break down cells over time and can promote cancer cell growth—antioxidants slow this process.

Stay Away from Processed Simple Carbs

For carbs that cancer patients should avoid, we’ll refer back to the simple carbs mentioned earlier. Foods that have processed simple carbs usually include added sugars and lack the essential nutrients that someone going through cancer treatments needs. Avoid eating candy and foods with processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup with no nutritional value.


When you think of fats, you might immediately think of fast food and all the negatives associated with it. However, the common theme of processed foods versus non-processed foods applies to this macronutrient as well – beneficial and healthy fats versus bad fats. 

The body depends on healthy fats for normal cell and organ function. It insulates organs to help keep the body at a healthy temperature. Preserving body weight and organ function when fighting cancer is a top priority. The healthy fats like omega-3 can also help reduce cancer-provoking inflammation. Listed below are some healthy fat foods that should be included in a cancer diet:

  • Avocados
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Olive oil and grapeseed oil

These are unsaturated fats meaning they are loosely packed together and easier to break down after ingesting. Similar to complex versus simple carbs, unsaturated and saturated fats are both parts of a balanced diet, but unsaturated fats should make up the majority of your fat consumption.

Eating these “good fats” is an easy way to meet your daily calorie needs when going in and out of treatment, doctors’ appointments, or when your appetite is lacking.

Should I Avoid Saturated Fats

Like with carbs, there are some saturated fats that can be eaten in a pinch if needed. In fact, the American Heart Association says that around 5% of calorie intake can be made of saturated fats. Most American’s diets are well above this amount. However, as a cancer patient, it’s extra important to be mindful of saturated fat intake. Limiting red meats, butter, cheese, and certain oils – like palm or coconut oil – will help decrease your saturated fat consumption.

Substituting saturated fats for unsaturated fats will make you feel healthier and will promote a healthier way of life. Cutting down on your saturated fat intake will help with issues of inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Furthermore, saturated fats have been linked to an increase in cancer risk, so limiting any further consumption should be a priority.

When Fighting Cancer with Food, Choose Z.E.N.

Taking the time out of your day to shop for the right foods isn’t always easy or even possible for someone diagnosed with cancer. Relieve this worry with our 5-star healthy foods delivery service and get the right nutrition delivered right to your doorstep. Need more info? Give us a call at (310) 205-9368 and speak with one of our Z.E.N. consultants!

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