Our registered dietitians have developed guidelines to support your health during and after treatment. Ask us how we can help you with personalized nutrition recommendations.
Protein helps build muscle and other cells. It also improves your red blood cell count and blood level of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Healthy sources of protein
Healthy sources of animal-based protein include:
- Skinless poultry such as chicken and turkey
- Lean cuts of beef, pork, and lamb (18 oz or less per week)
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, cottage cheese, and unsweetened yogurt
Plant-based protein sources include:
- Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame (green soybeans), and soy nuts
Is soy safe for me to eat?
Soy provides an excellent source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, and calcium. Soy also contains isoflavones, a type of chemical compound called phytoestrogens that occur naturally in soybeans and other plants.
Soy isoflavones can mimic the actions of estrogen, a hormone that can promote the growth of some types of cancer. As a result, several research studies have examined possible links between soy and cancer.
Past concerns that soy may increase the risk of cancer came from animal studies. Recent studies in humans have confirmed that eating a moderate amount of soy is safe for people with cancer and survivors. Moderate consumption means up to 3 servings per day from whole soy foods, such as:
- Soybeans and edamame
- Soy milk
- Soy nuts
Other studies on soy supplements and concentrates, such as soy protein powder, have shown that they may increase some cancer risk. We recommend avoiding foods that contain soy supplements. Check the ingredient lists of foods such as:
- Nutrition bars
- High-protein breads or cereals
- Vegetarian meatless foods such as veggie burgers or soy hot dogs
Protein sources to avoid
Some protein sources contain substances that may increase the risk of cancer:
- Processed, cured meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, and cold cuts: These meats contain excess sodium and nitrates (a type of food preservative).
- Barbecued, grilled, or smoked meats: This method of cooking creates cancer-causing chemicals.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants that promote health).
Aim to eat 6 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. One serving is:
- 1 cup of leafy greens
- ½ cup of vegetables (raw or cooked)
- ½ cup of fruit
- ¼ cup of dried fruit
A variety of colors in your fruit and vegetable choices provides the most nutrients. Some suggestions include:
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
- Carotenoid-rich produce such as apricots, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and watermelon
- Cooked mushrooms such as button, maitake (“hen of the woods”), oyster, portobello, and shiitake
- A variety of fruits such as apples, berries, cherries, citrus fruits, and purple grapes
- Dried or fresh herbs and spices including basil, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, oregano, black and chili pepper, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric
Tips for choosing fruits and vegetables
- Fresh or frozen foods contain more nutrients than canned versions.
- Avoid deep-fried vegetables, French fries, and potato chips.
- Check the sodium and sugar amounts in canned foods. Look for these words on the label:
- Low or reduced sodium or no salt added
- No sugar added, or canned in water or light syrup
Certain types of fats, such as omega-3 fats, promote heart health and may reduce the risk of cancer, according to some studies.
Sources of healthy fats include:
- Coldwater fish such as arctic char, cod, halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna
- Seeds such as chia and flaxseed
- Olive oil and olives
- Nuts and butters made from them
Fats to avoid
Saturated and trans fats can increase blood cholesterol and may be linked to a greater risk of certain types of cancer. Saturated fats come from foods such as:
- Red meats
- Poultry skin
- Full-fat dairy products such as butter and cream
- Coconut and palm oils
Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils (hydrogenation), creating products such as margarine or shortening. Partially hydrogenated oils commonly appear in processed foods such as:
- Baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, cookies, and crackers
- Snacks such as potato, corn, and tortilla chips and microwave popcorn
- Refrigerated dough for biscuits, pizza, and other baked goods
- Non-dairy creamer
- Fried foods
Complex carbohydrates provide the body with fuel for energy. They are typically high in fiber, which may help lower cancer risk by removing excess estrogen, according to some studies.
We recommend eating 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
Good sources of high-fiber, complex carbohydrates include:
- Beans such as black, kidney, and pinto
- Brans including wheat and oat
- Grains such as barley, farro, and quinoa
- Oatmeal, particularly steel-cut oats
- Minimally processed rice such as wild, brown, and black
- Whole-grain pasta, cereal, and crackers
Carbohydrates to avoid
Simple carbohydrates are sugars that occur naturally in fruit or dairy products or are found in refined or processed foods. Simple carbohydrates provide energy but no fiber or other nutrients. It’s best to avoid foods containing simple carbohydrates, including:
- White or brown sugar
- Processed or refined grains, flours, and pasta, such as white bread, refined crackers or noodles, and pretzels
- Sweetened beverages such as fruit juices, sodas, tea and coffee drinks, and sports drinks
- Sugary snacks such as candy, cookies, cakes, and ice cream
- High-sugar breakfast foods including sugary cereals, jams, jellies, syrups, and honey
- Any foods labeled “with added sugar”
Water is essential for our bodily functions. It’s especially important to stay hydrated during cancer treatment to:
- Reduce fatigue
- Help your liver and kidneys remove toxins that result from chemotherapy
We recommend drinking 6 to 10 cups (48 to 80 oz) of fluids each day.
Good beverage choices include:
- Still or sparkling water
- Flavored water (without added sugars)
- Herbal and green teas
- Decaffeinated tea and coffee
- Low-sodium broths and soups
Beverages to avoid
Avoid or limit certain beverages:
- Undiluted fruit juices
- Sugary beverages such as sweet tea and sport drinks
- Caffeinated tea and coffee
Published October 2019
Stanford Health Care © 2019