Staying Healthy With Cancer — A Balanced Diet

Staying Healthy With Cancer — A Balanced Diet

The following post was written by The Mesothleioma Center for the Living with Cancer blog.

A common concern for people with cancer is eating a healthy diet to improve a prognosis and boost immunity. The standard American diet doesn’t exactly promote optimal health, leaving many people to wonder what a balanced diet actually entails.

Every human needs the following food groups to survive: Carbohydrates, protein and fat. These are called macronutrients.

In addition to macronutrients, we also need micronutrients, which primarily include vitamins and minerals. They’re called micronutrients because we only need small amounts of them, and they are found in the macronutrients we eat.

Thankfully, taking a multivitamin regularly can help people consume the recommended amount of micronutrients. Eating a balanced amount of macronutrients can take a bit of discipline for most people, but the reward of feeling better is worth the effort.

However, for people with cancer, the important goals are to eat enough calories to sustain energy and enough protein to promote recovery. Additionally, eating a variety of produce delivers lots of essential nutrients, as well as antioxidants and phytonutrients, some of which are known to boost the immune system.

Carbohydrates Sustain Energy

Carbohydrates are essentially complex sugars and they’re the body’s primary source of fuel, which is glucose. Roughly 45 to 65 percent of your calories should come from healthy carbohydrates.

What are healthy carbohydrates? Unprocessed carbohydrates are the healthiest, which include vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread.

Processed carbohydrates are not-so-healthy and include bleached grains like white bread and white rice, desserts like cakes and pies, and sugary drinks like soda.

The kinds of carbohydrates you eat can make a big difference to how you feel. Consuming primarily processed carbohydrates can leave people feeling sluggish.

You can get a variety of micronutrients from eating vegetables and fruits of many different colors. Fresh produce contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients, all of which help the body operate optimally.

Protein Powers the Healing Process

Proteins are made of amino acids, which aid growth, tissue repair, immune function and the production of hormones and enzymes.

When we think of proteins, we typically think of meat, poultry and fish. Of these proteins, poultry and fish are the most healthful because they’re low in fat. Eggs and egg whites are another healthy source of protein; just consider limitingyolk consumption to three a week to keep cholesterol in control.

Plant-based sources of protein are also low in fat and include beans, nuts and nut butter, seeds, quinoa and leafy greens.

People with cancer should consume protein with every meal and snack.

Healthy Fats Are Your Friend

Fats are made of fatty acids and help with absorption of vitamins and carotenoids, maintenance of cell membranes and supply energy.

Some fats are healthy and others not so much. Saturated and trans fats are the most unhealthy fats. Saturated fat is found in animal-sourced food like beef and full-fat dairy. Trans fats primarily come from processed oils, such as margarine and shortening.

Unsaturated fats are healthier and are found in nuts, seeds, oils (olive, grapeseed and flaxseed), and fish like salmon, mackerel, cod and trout.

Eating a perfect diet isn’t easy for anyone, especially people coping with side effects like loss of appetite, mouth sores, nausea and vomiting. Ultimately, eating enough calories and protein are the primary things people with cancer should be concerned about.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or any type of cancer for that matter, make sure to ask your doctor if nutritional counseling is available at your treatment centeror look online for a dietician who has experience working with cancer patients. Dieticians are skilled at creating meal plans that suit your tastes and promote healing.

Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of natural and integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor and earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Rollins College in Florida.


McKinley Health Center. (2014, February 4). Macronutrients: The importance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Retrieved from

Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Food pyramids and plates: What should you really eat? Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2014, August 7). Dietary fats: Know which types to choose. Retrieved from

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