While there are no specific dietary guidelines for people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), certain diet patterns may help boost your energy and support recovery.

Proper nutrition is important for everyone, but it can be even more essential for people with cancer.

Eating a nutrient-dense diet can help support recovery after treatments like chemotherapy.

A registered dietitian can help you establish nutrition guidelines that are appropriate for you. Here are a few diet tips for people with CLL you can add to your treatment plan.

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There is substantial evidence that high consumption of processed foods, such as fast food and processed meats, is associated with a greater risk of developing certain cancers, including colon and breast cancer.

Processed meat refers to meat that has been treated to preserve flavor by undergoing salting, curing, or smoking, like hot dogs, bacon, and ham.

One 2018 study found an association between eating a Western diet and CLL. The study included 369 people with CLL and 1,605 people without CLL. Researchers compared the association between CLL and three diets: Western, Prudent, and Mediterranean.

The Western diet includes a high intake of processed meats, refined grains, sugar, high calorie drinks, fast food, and processed dairy.

The Prudent diet focuses on a high intake of vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, whole grains, and juices.

The Mediterranean diet includes a high fish intake, fruits, vegetables, boiled potatoes, legumes, olives, and vegetable oils.

The study data found that people who ate a Western dietary pattern were more likely to have CLL.

No associations were found between Mediterranean and Prudent diets and CLL.

Many researchers advocate for a Mediterranean diet or a plant-based diet for cancer prevention, as well as for people with cancer.

Plant-based means focusing on eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This diet also limits red meat in favor of fish and legumes.

Fruits and vegetables contain many antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may help protect against cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends fruits or vegetables comprise at least half of every meal.

Healthy fats are found in foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil, nuts, seeds, and fish like tuna and salmon.

A 2022 review of 45 studies shows a link between olive oil and reduced cancer risk.

However, a 2017 review and meta-analysis of 83 studies suggests this correlation is most likely due to olive oil being a common component of overall-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, rather than its singular consumption.

Heavy alcohol use may increase the risk of certain cancers, including cancer of the mouth, liver, breast, and colon.

If you do choose to drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society suggests limiting intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

In addition, certain prescription or over-the-counter medications can interact with alcohol. Discuss these potential interactions with your doctor or pharmacist before drinking any alcohol.

Treatment side effects may make it difficult to get enough calories and protein.

Side effects of CLL treatments such as chemotherapy include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • dry or sore mouth and throat (mucositis)
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of sense of taste and smell
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing

Ask your doctor how to manage these side effects so you can still get the nutrition you need to keep your body strong. A diet of soft foods that are easier to chew and swallow can help manage many of these side effects.

Examples of soft foods include:

  • pureed and strained soups containing lots of vegetables and beans
  • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or other soft sandwiches
  • minced chicken or fish in a sauce
  • milkshakes or smoothies made with dairy, tofu, soy milk, or yogurt
  • white rice
  • omelets or egg scrambles
  • pureed fruits, like apple sauce or mashed bananas
  • oatmeal with stewed fruits

Depending on your symptoms, you may need to make certain dietary changes.

For example, if you’re experiencing taste changes, adding flavorful additions to meals, such as herbs and spices, may help. Not only can herbs and spices make foods more palatable if you’re experiencing changes in taste or smell, but they’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

However, adding herbs and spices to meals may not suit everyone. Strong aromas may trigger nausea in people prone to it, and spices can irritate the mouth. The latter is of particular concern for people with mucositis, as spices may irritate mouth sores, causing severe discomfort.

In these instances, bland, cold food may be the most palatable.

Staying properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water is essential for overall health. It can also help prevent treatment-related side effects, such as constipation and dry mouth.

If you’re experiencing diarrhea from your cancer treatment, ask your doctor about electrolyte drinks. Electrolytes are minerals that must stay in balance for cells to work properly.

You can’t prevent or fight CLL with diet changes alone. But proper nutrition can make a huge difference during treatment and recovery and increase your overall quality of life.

Nutrition is complex, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet.

More research is always needed, but your best option, for now, is to stick to a diet of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while taking steps to manage your treatment side effects.