Live Better
 
 

Can a healthy diet help cancer survivors?

How eating a nutritionally balanced diet can support you on your cancer journey.

Pile of fresh ingredients to be used in cooking, shot from above

While cancer is still a leading cause of death among Australians, more and more people are surviving a diagnosis than ever before, thanks to earlier detection and improved treatments. With these breakthroughs comes a greater focus on research into increasing survival odds via key lifestyle choices.

There are plenty of well-supported diet and lifestyle recommendations around lowering your risk of developing cancer. The key advice suggests maintaining a healthy weight, keeping active, giving up smoking, eating lots of plant-based foods, limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat, and cutting back on alcohol and salt.

Unfortunately, not much evidence exists to date to make clear dietary recommendations for people who have already been diagnosed. But from the research we do have, some key themes emerge that show the importance of a healthy diet for cancer survivors.

“Fruits, veggies, fish and wholegrains currently sit at the top of evidence-based recommendations for people who’ve survived cancer.”

The best foods and worst foods

The research field is sparse when it comes to studies that look at the diet and lifestyle habits of cancer survivors. Only a few key cancers have been studied and results can often appear contradictory.

Further complicating things, some studies only looked at diet before diagnosis, while others examined diet after diagnosis. In short, the jury is still out when it comes to an evidence-based diet for surviving cancer, though there are some key signposts to guide the way.

A recent research study in the Nutrition Reviews journal collated 117 studies involving over 200,000 cancer survivors into a single analysis. What they found wasn’t so surprising.

Fish and veggies are overachieving food groups when it comes to cancer survival, while alcohol was linked to worse outcomes. In terms of a more complete diet, one stood out from the rest – a wholefood or healthy, balanced diet. Such a diet was high in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, while low in processed red meat, refined grains and high-fat foods.

This wholefood diet was linked to a 22% lower risk of earlier death compared to people with a poorer nutritional intake.

“When it comes to putting these recommendations into practice, it’s best to stick with foods as close to their natural state as possible.”

What constitutes a poor diet?

Unsurprisingly, a typical Western diet – i.e. high-fat and high-sugar. A diet heavy in processed meat, refined grains and lots of added sugar was linked to an earlier mortality risk of almost 50% in people with cancer.

So, what should you eat? 

When it comes to putting these recommendations into practice, it’s best to stick with foods as close to their natural state as possible. Fruits, veggies, fish and wholegrains currently sit at the top of evidence-based recommendations for people who’ve survived cancer – a diet similar to the one recommended for lowering your risk of diagnosis in the first place.

Recommended Reading

Food

Beef, shiitake and spring onion risotto recipe

An easy and satisfying risotto, full of flavour. Read more

Food

Roasted capsicum recipe

A simple side dish, or delicious in sandwiches or pasta. Read more

Food

Veggie-packed penne pasta salad with smoked salmon recipe

Add loads of fresh veggies for a delicious pasta dish. Read more

Food

Stove-baked weekend eggs recipe

A warming weekend breakfast, full of energising protein. Read more

Food

The best healthy snacks for work

Try these dietitian-approved ideas for a quick energy boost. Read more

Food

Food for winter cosiness

Dietitian Lisa Donaldson shares some tips for warming up. Read more

Food

Meal planning made easy

Save time and money by getting organised in the kitchen. Read more

Food

A dietitian’s guide to the supermarket

Healthy eating starts with healthy shopping. Read more

youtubetwittersign-up-userArtboard Copynp_phone_503983_000000download_red4xdownload_red4x copyArtboardmember-offer-starLogoMedibank - Logo - ColourOval 5Instagram iconicon-editdownload_red4x copygive-back--spinesgive-back--moneygive-back--massagegive-back--likegive-back--jointgive-back--emailgive-back--dislikedownload_red4xdownload_red4xGroup 5filter-iconfacebookMobile Navcheckcarret-upcarret-rightcarret-leftcarret-downGroup Copy 2arrowarrow-circleanimated-tick