Nine Foods for Cancer Patients

A pill bottle isn’t the only option for relieving stress and discomfort caused by cancer and its treatments. Sometimes you can eat your way to feeling better.

Dana-Farber nutrition expert Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, suggests some common foods that can pep you up, calm you down, relieve nausea, and potentially fight cancer at the same time.

1. Red hot chili peppers contain capsaicin, which is a pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to inhibit cancer cells. Creams containing capsaicin have been shown to relieve pain following cancer surgery.

2. Cloves have some antiseptic and antibiotic properties, and are used by Ayurvedic healers in India to treat respiratory and digestive problems.

3. Ginger tea (hot water with fresh ginger root and lemon) is recommended for relieving nausea during treatment. In Eastern traditional medicine, ginger is used for indigestion, diarrhea, arthritis, and join and muscle pain.

4. Ginseng was found to be effective in fighting cancer-related fatigue in a new study presented at a national cancer conference. Patients who were undergoing cancer treatment, or who had recently completed it, took a daily capsule containing 2,000 milligrams of pure, ground ginseng root. They reported feeling less tired and sluggish after eight weeks. But be careful: ginseng can interact with many medications, so don’t take it without your doctor’s approval.

5. Apples can help curb hunger and control weight. In addition, some preliminary studies suggest that eating an apple or two a day can decrease the risk of developing lung, colon, and pancreatic cancer.

6. Watermelon is a great source of fluids to help you stay hydrated, and is a good choice for patients with diarrhea or who are on a restricted fiber diet.

7. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols that may help prevent cancer, and also has anti-inflammatory benefits.

8. Brazil nuts have been suggested to relieve anxiety. They contain selenium, a mineral that has been linked to a lowered risk of prostate cancer in some studies.

9. Smoothies are a good way to add fruits and vegetables to your diet, and can be a good source of protein. Not all smoothies are healthy, though: It’s best to make them yourself from fresh ingredients. Protein powders differ greatly in ingredients, so check with your nutritionist on which ones are the healthiest.

Whether you’re looking to address specific symptoms or just eat better, eating well can be an important part of cancer survivorship.

4 thoughts on “Nine Foods for Cancer Patients”

    • Hi Mary Ann, thanks for your question! There is a section of the Dana-Farber website called “Ask the Nutritionist” in which someone asked the same question. Here is a link to the answer: Whole soy foods (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, edamame, etc.) are safe to eat in moderation. However, foods with soy isoflavones such as pills, powders and soy based protein bars contain concentrated amounts of phytoestrogen which may exert weak estrogen-like effects in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. You don’t have to completely avoid whole soy products, like edamame, if you like them, they are a great source of lean protein.

  1. I think smoothies are a pretty lame example of cancer fighting foods. There is so much vairence with smoothies- who is to say that they can help fight cancer.

    • Dear Casey —

      Thank you for your comment. Smoothies can vary in terms of nutritional content, and we suggest to avoid loading them up with ice cream or other high-sugar ingredients on a regular basis. However, smoothies can be a great way to work in fruits and vegetables to your diet. Make sure to check with a nutritionist on which smoothie options are healthiest.

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