Eating a balanced diet is especially important when you have breast cancer. Proper nutrition may help your body heal from cancer treatment, which can have side effects such as mouth sores, lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

A nutritious diet may help you maintain your weight, keep your body tissues healthy, and reduce cancer symptoms and the side effects of treatment.

If you’re having difficulty eating enough, use these tips to get more nutrition into your daily diet.

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If you have breast cancer, you’re most likely receiving chemotherapy or hormone therapy or taking HER2-targeted drugs. Your treatment depends on the type and stage of your cancer. You may also need radiation therapy. These treatments may cause you to lose your appetite, among other side effects.

Usually, you’ll get these treatments after you’ve undergone a breast-conserving surgery, which is also known as a lumpectomy, a partial mastectomy, or a full mastectomy.

Coping with the treatments and the physical changes can be hard. One 2018 study involving 152 women with breast cancer found that 38% of the participants had depression and 32% had anxiety. And because breast cancer can significantly affect both your physical and mental health, it may negatively affect your appetite.

Although it can be difficult, making healthy food choices can help nourish your brain and body as you fight the disease. We’ve created this guide to help make healthy eating easier.

Breast cancer food guide

There is no specific diet that’s recommended for people with breast cancer. Your nutrient needs may vary depending on many factors, including other medical conditions you have, your weight, nutrient deficiencies, medications, and any symptoms you’re currently experiencing.

Your healthcare team, including a registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition, can help you create an appropriate eating plan specific to your needs and overall health. General recommendations for promoting overall health when you have breast cancer include the following foods:

  • Whole, nutrient-dense foods: Examples include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, protein sources like chicken and turkey, fatty fish like trout or salmon, and plant-based protein sources like lentils and nuts.
  • Foods high in healthy fats and protein: To maintain or gain weight, incorporate healthy fats such as nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil and protein sources such as eggs, chicken, lentils, and fish. Protein-rich foods are especially important for maintaining muscle mass.
  • Blended liquids: Milkshakes, smoothies, juices, or soups can be good options when you don‘t feel like eating solid foods.
  • High fiber foods: Whole grains, flaxseed, legumes, vegetables, and fruits contain fiber, which can help reduce constipation.


Eating foods that contain compounds known as phytochemicals may help your body fight cancer. These chemicals are found primarily in plant-based foods.

While some studies suggest that phytochemicals may help reduce cancer risk or recurrence, more research is needed to determine the precise effect they have on existing cancers as compared to cancer risk.

This table provides some guidance on what phytochemicals do and which foods contain them:

TypeWhat they doWhich foods contain them
carotenoids or beta carotene These compounds may help prevent the growth of malignant tumors and minimize the negative effects of chemotherapy drugs without reducing the treatment’s effect on cancer cells.most fruits and vegetables
isothiocyanates These compounds may play a role in stopping the growth of breast cancer cells.cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage
polyphenolsThese compounds may help prevent tumor cell growth and spread. There are five types of polyphenols: flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, stilbenes, and other polyphenols. Of these five, flavonoids and phenolic acids are the most common types, accounting for 60% and 30%, respectively.
various foods, such as fruits, berries, and grains, depending on the type

More broadly, research suggests that when people with breast cancer eat more fruits and vegetables (especially green leafy or cruciferous vegetables), their chance of survival may be higher.

For example, eating blueberries is associated with a lower risk of death from breast cancer and death from all causes. On the other hand, drinking a lot of fruit juice (except for orange juice) is associated with lower survival rates from breast cancer and other causes.

Researchers think that in addition to the phytochemicals in produce, the glycemic index of vegetables and fruits may be a factor in breast cancer survival. But more research is needed.

Additionally, a 2018 review of studies suggests that drinking 5 or more cups of green tea per day may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 19%.

When you’re feeling ill from side effects related to treatment, you may be able to eat only specific foods. But when you’re feeling well, it’s best to eat a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, protein sources like chicken and fish, high fiber foods like beans, and healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and nuts.

In certain situations determined by your doctor, you may need to avoid or reduce your consumption of specific foods and beverages, such as:

  • Alcohol: Beer, wine, and liquor could interact with cancer drugs. There is also some limited evidence that drinking alcohol may increase the risk of recurrence and death for existing breast cancer.
  • Spicy, crunchy, or acidic foods: These foods may increase mouth soreness, which is a common chemotherapy side effect.
  • Undercooked foods: If you have breast cancer, you’re at a higher risk of developing infections. Avoid raw foods such as sushi and oysters and cook meats, fish, and poultry to a safe temperature before eating them. For similar reasons, avoid raw nuts, expired or moldy foods, or leftovers that have been in the refrigerator for more than 3 days.
  • Red and processed meats: Some research has found that lower diet quality is associated with a greater risk of death. Red and processed meats have corresponded with lower dietary quality.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverage: Consuming less added sugar can help you avoid unwanted weight gain.
  • Highly processed foods and refined grains: A 2018 prospective study found roughly a 10% increase in breast cancer risk among people who ate 10% more ultra-processed foods.

If you’ve been reading about breast cancer online, you might find claims that one diet or another can cure this cancer. Be wary of these exaggerated claims.

Generally, research suggests that eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and low fat dairy products may have a positive effect on cancer survival. In contrast, eating highly processed foods, high sugar foods, or fried foods may have a negative impact.

Any diet that encourages eating lots of nutritious foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help support your cancer recovery.

If you want to try any of the following diets, consider these precautions:

Keto diet

The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate eating plan that has gained popularity in recent years. When following this diet, you dramatically reduce your carbohydrate consumption to put your body into a state of ketosis, which means it’s forced to burn stored fat for energy.

Though a few studies have suggested that the ketogenic diet is promising for certain types of cancer, it hasn’t been proven to treat breast cancer. It can also change the chemical balance in your body, which could be harmful.

Plant-based diet

A plant-based diet mainly involves eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This is similar to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but many people who follow plant-based diets still eat limited amounts of animal products.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends following a plant-based diet for cancer prevention. Their research suggests that cancer survivors may benefit from this diet as well. The diet allows you to get fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from plant foods while getting protein and nutrients from animal products.

Your diet should contain a healthy balance of protein, calories, fats, and other nutrients. Going to extremes in any direction could be dangerous. Before trying a new diet, check with a dietitian and doctor to make sure it’s safe.

Mediterranean diet

When following the Mediterranean diet, you eat many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. This diet also includes olive oil, beans, dairy, and proteins such as chicken, eggs, and fish.

The food you eat on this diet tends to be minimally processed. You drink minimal alcohol, usually wine and typically with meals. The diet minimizes sugar, salt, and saturated fat and doesn’t include a lot of processed meats.

Multiple studies suggest that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce breast cancer risk and may have a positive effect on breast cancer mortality. In addition, research suggests that this diet may help improve sleep quality, reduce pain, and boost your overall well-being. But it may not be possible to rule out other factors that could contribute to these outcomes.

Breast cancer symptoms and treatment side effects may leave you feeling too unwell to cook, plan meals, or eat as you usually would. Here are some tips to help make eating healthy easier.

Eat smaller meals

Nausea, bloating, and constipation can make it difficult to eat three large meals per day. To get enough calories, you can try grazing on smaller portions five or six times per day.

You can try adding snacks such as hard-boiled eggs, yogurt with berries, and peanut butter on crackers or apples.

Meet with a registered dietitian

A dietitian can help you design a healthy meal plan that suits your food preferences and nutritional needs. They can also teach you ways to manage cancer treatment side effects such as nausea so you can eat a more well-balanced diet.

If you can, work with a dietitian who has experience in treating people with breast cancer. You can ask your oncologist or nurse to recommend someone.

Use different utensils

Sometimes, chemotherapy can leave a bad taste in your mouth, giving food an unpleasant flavor. Certain foods, such as meat, can take on a metallic taste.

To improve the taste of your food, avoid metal utensils and cooking tools. Use plastic cutlery instead, and cook with glass pots and pans.

Add more fluids

If your mouth hurts too much to eat solid foods, you can get your nutrition from liquids such as smoothies or nutritional drinks.

Additionally, treatment side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you, so it’s important to drink at least 8–12 glasses of water per day. During treatment, some of those liquids may be fruit juice, milk, and low sodium broth. Limit your caffeine intake and try to eat foods high in moisture, such as fruits.

Many recipes use healthy ingredients. Cooking your own food will help you know exactly what goes into your meals and avoid ingredients that might cause you harm.

It can be helpful to plan and prepare meals ahead of time. That way, you’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan.

You can create a meal plan for the entire week and cook an entire week’s meals over the weekend when you have more time. If you’re too tired to cook or can’t stand the smell of food, you may want to ask a friend or relative to prepare meals for you.

A dietitian or doctor may be able to recommend some recipes. Here are some other helpful resources for recipes:

  • The National Cancer Institute’s pamphlet includes recipes for snacks, liquid foods such as milkshakes, low or high fiber foods, and tips on how to add protein and calories when eating is difficult.
  • The American Cancer Society offers a database of recipes, including side dishes, appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.
  • The American Institute for Cancer Research provides a variety of recipes, including appetizers, main dishes, beverages, salads, sides, vegetarian dishes, and whole grains.

In addition, you can consider purchasing a cookbook specifically designed for breast cancer nutrition.

Here are some frequently asked questions about maintaining a healthy diet with breast cancer.

What should a person with breast cancer avoid eating?

A person with breast cancer should avoid alcohol, ultra-processed foods, undercooked foods, and red and processed meats.

What is the number 1 cancer-fighting food?

Plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains contain the most cancer-fighting nutrients.

Can you live 20 years after having breast cancer?

The current survival rate for breast cancer is 90%, which means that women who have breast cancer are, on average, 90% as likely to live for at least 5 years after diagnosis as women who don’t have it.

Can breast cancer be treated with diet?

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is sure to be beneficial in decreasing the risk of cancer, but there is no scientific evidence that a special diet can treat or cure cancer.

Eating a nutritious diet when you have breast cancer has many health benefits. Not only can it help you feel better faster, but it can bolster your immune system and keep you feeling strong. If you’re considering trying a new diet or you’re having trouble with healthy eating, talk with a doctor or a dietitian.

It might also be helpful to reach out to others for support. Our free app, Bezzy Breast Cancer, connects you with thousands of other women living with breast cancer. You can ask diet-related questions and seek advice from women who have it. Download the app for iPhone or Android.