Cancer patient diet plan: What foods to eat for faster recovery

By: Jasmine Marfatia

Published On: October 24, 2018

A nutritious diet is extremely important for those undergoing cancer treatment. Here’s how a cancer patient should be eating

A healthy eating pattern and a nutritious diet is extremely crucial for a cancer patient or someone who is about to begin cancer treatment. The main reason for this is that cancer treatment, be it radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery, can have a very strong effect on a person’s body and immune system. 

During this time, consuming adequate calories for strength, and recovery is a must. That said, every patient is different, and they experience different symptoms when getting treated for cancer.

cancer-diet-chartThis means that there is no diet written in stone, that will work for everyone. Cancer nutrition greatly depends on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, the type of cancer treatment being done, the medical history of the patient, and the signs and symptoms that they are experiencing. 

Objectives for cancer nutrition

Below are some general objectives of any nutrition plan for a cancer patient. Based on these objectives, a doctor or nutritionist can create a plan suitable to the individual and his/ her medical needs. 

Prevent weight lossweight-loss-during-cancer-treatmentOne of the most important objectives for cancer patients’ diet is to ensure they do not lose weight before, during, or after treatment. This holds true even for overweight cancer patients. 

On the other hand, patients who are underweight may be required to gain some weight before their treatment begins. Weight related goals can be achieved by making small but sensible changes to one’s diet.

Maintain lean body mass

Lean body mass is the part of an individual's body composition that comprises of muscle, bones, and tissue, leaving out the body fat. Therefore maintenance or increase of muscle mass of lean body mass is necessary to maintain the health of a cancer patient.

Prevent catabolism

During cancer treatment, the patient’s metabolism goes through several changes, more specifically, catabolic changes. The word ‘catabolism’ means to breakdown. Medical nutritional therapy is applied to prevent a catabolic state as far as possible, and to support anabolic (building) activity.

Manage drug-nutrient interactions


People who are being treated for cancer are required to take a lot of medications, drugs, and supplements. Certain drugs may interact with foods and other supplements in an unwanted way. 

To avoid and problems from arising through drug-nutrient interactions, the cancer patient’s nutrition consultant, oncologist and health team must be in touch with each other, and constantly monitor the individuals health. 

Relieve symptoms

Cancer treatment can have various side effects, and other symptoms as a result of treatment. Some of these symptoms include lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness etc

By ensuring a balanced diet that provides all vitamins and minerals in the required quantity, you may be able to relive some of the symptoms faced by the patient.  

Provide adequate energy through foodfoods-giving-energyPerhaps the most obvious one so far, cancer patients undergoing heavy treatment are usually low on energy and experience weakness. Adequate and nutrient dense food choices will make up for the loss of energy and prevent weight loss. Sufficient calorie intake from all food groups in a must.

Protein requirements for cancer patients

Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a role in supporting recovery, and rehabilitation of the body. Since cancer patients go through severe catabolism during treatment, they also have greater protein requirements. 

Below is the daily protein requirement for cancer patients at different stages of treatment:

  • Recommended daily allowance for non-cancer adults: 0.8 gms per kg body weight

  • Recommended daily allowance for non-stressed cancer patients: 1-1.2 gms per kg body weight

  • Hyper catabolic cancer patients: 1.2 - 1.6 gms per kg body weight

  • Severely stressed cancer patients: 1.5 - 2.5 gms per kg body weight

  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients: 1.5 - 2 gms per kg body weight

Calorie intake for cancer patients

calorie-intakeCalories are usually increased for cancer patients to provide more energy. For an adult with a stable nutritional status 25-30 kcal per kg of body weight is required for maintenance. 

However, someone who is undergoing severe breakdown, malnutrition, anorexia, symptoms of diarrhea, or highly stressed patients, may need as much as 35-40 kcal per kg of body weight.

Cancer diet chart: Foods to be included in a cancer patient’s diet


  • Whole grains: rice, wheat, oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa, barley

  • Roots and tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, 

Proteinsprotein-rich-foodLean meats: chicken, turkey

  • Seafood: oily fish like salmon and tuna

  • Other required foods: 

  • Eggs

  • Certain soy based products (if suitable)

  • Bean and pulses

  • Dairy and dairy products like paneer, cheese, milk, curd (if suitable)


  • Nuts and oilseeds

  • Avocados

  • Olive oils for low heat, ghee


  • Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, lettuce, collard greens

  • Root vegetable: carrots, radish, potatoes, sweet potato, 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts

  • Other vegetables: tomatoes, green peas, pumpkins, bell peppers, asparagus

FruitsfruitsFibrous fruits like apple, oranges, sweet lime

  • Berries: strawberries, blueberries, blueberries, raspberries

  • Dense fruits: bananas, mangoes, chockoos, sitaphal

  • Dried fruits: apricots, figs, raisins, dates, prunes

Sample cancer diet chart


  • Cooked wholegrain porridge like oats, barley, rice, semolina

  • 150 ml fruit milk shake with 1 tsp honey

  • Boiled eggs

Mid-morning snack

  • 1 cup plain yoghurt 

  • 1 cup of fresh fruits


  • 1-2 cups of whole grain or 3-4 chapatis

  • 2 cups of vegetable

  • 100 gms of lean meat/ fish/ paneer

  • 1 glass of buttermilk


  • Handful of nuts or 1-2 Tbsp of nut butter

  • Carrots and cucumber sticks

  • 4-5 olives


  • 2 cups of steamed vegetables

  • 1-1.5 cups of brown rice/ quinoa/ millet

  • 1 cup of beans/ dal

  • 100 gms of fish preparation

While this is only a general plan, several changes would be made according to the nutritional status of the patient, their weight, the type of treatment, and of course their food preferences. 

Additionally, cancer patients may also require additional supplementation to ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals in adequate quantity. 

If you, or anyone you know is battling cancer or undergoing treatment, share this information with them to support their speedy recovery!

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