Breast Cancer Diet

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
breast cancer survivors

A nutritious diet is important regardless of your health but especially when you're a breast cancer patient. UCSF Medical Center says one-third of U.S. adulthood cancer deaths can be attributed to diet. Certain foods might be better tolerated than others during treatment, but getting in a good variety of nutritious foods is essential. Eating right can help you get through successful treatment and prevent cancer from recurring.

Diet Basics

For breast cancer prevention and recurrence risk reduction, UCSF Medical Center and John Hopkins Medicine suggest the following guidelines:

Fill Your Plate

Divide your plate into quarters.

  • Fill half your plate with vegetables (five or more servings of fruits and veggies daily).
  • Fill a quarter of your plate with protein foods.
  • Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables.

Macronutrient Tips

Eating the right proportion of carbs, proteins, and fat is beneficial.

  • Eat protein at every meal.
  • Aim for 30 to 45 grams of fiber daily.
  • Focus on healthy fats, such as fatty fish, avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and plant-based oils.
  • Eat less than 30 percent of your calories from fat (fewer than 67 grams daily for a 2,000-calorie diet).

Cancer-Fighting Add-Ons

Add foods that are beneficial for fighting cancer because they are rich in phytochemicals and/or antioxidants (with the exception of water, which helps hydrate).

  • Consume 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax or chia seeds daily.
  • Drink 1 to 4 cups of green tea daily.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Season foods with herbs and spices.
  • Take a multivitamin supplement as recommended by your doctor.

Cancer-Fighting Food Group Lists

Fill half your plate with a variety of fruits and veggies. John Hopkins Medicine says fruits and veggies containing cancer-fighting phytochemicals (which help inhibit cancer cell growth) include:

colorful produce
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi, watercress, bok choy, collards, rutabaga, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts
  • Carotenoids, which are found in green, orange, and dark yellow fruits and veggies
  • Cucurbitaceous (plants from the gourd family) fruits and veggies, such as muskmelon, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber, and squash
  • Umbelliferous (aromatic flowering plants) vegetables, such as carrots, celery, parsnip, and parsley
  • Solanaceous (nightshade) vegetables, such as tomatoes and eggplant
  • Other cancer-fighting fruits and veggies including citrus fruits, berries, apples, broccoli sprouts, legumes, garlic, shallots, leeks, and onions

Add the following phytochemical-rich herbs and spices to your diet to flavor food, as recommended by John Hopkins Medicine and UCSF Medical Center:

  • Fennel
  • Caraway seeds
  • Sage
  • Dill
  • Camphor
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Licorice root

Choose protein-rich foods at each meal (especially plant proteins), including:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh) - Note: soy appears to be beneficial for breast cancer patients, but specific amount recommendation aren't established
  • Peas
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters

Eat up to 30 percent of your total calories from fat (67 grams or less daily for a 2,000-calorie diet). Choose healthy fats, such as:

  • Avocado
  • Plant-based oils
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.)
  • Nut butters
  • Fish oil
  • Olives

Fill 1/4 your plate with whole grains and starchy vegetables, such as:

  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc.)
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley

Hydrate your body with:

  • Water
  • Antioxidant-rich green tea
  • Vegetable juices

Foods to Avoid

When you have or are recovering from breast cancer, limit the following foods because they can increase your risk for recurrence. That's because the foods contain ingredients like added sugars and chemicals, have a low nutrient-density, or they promote weight gain and obesity.

  • "White" foods (white pasta, white bread, white rice, cake, cream sauces and dressings, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Fatty red meats
  • Limit lean red meat
  • Meats cooked at very high temperatures (frying, broiling, or grilling, says the American Cancer society)
  • Processed meats
  • Fried foods
  • High-fat dairy foods
  • Sugary drinks
  • Candy and other sweets
  • Limit dairy foods (suggests UCSF Medical Center)

Sample Menu

Use the following breast cancer diet meal plan below to help prevent breast cancer recurrence and stay healthy:

Breakfast: Tomato and kale omelet cooked in canola oil, oatmeal, and green tea

Snack: Melon cubes with soymilk or protein almond milk

Lunch: Grilled salmon, Brussels sprouts, brown rice (cooked in olive oil), and green tea

Snack: Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with chia or flax seeds and berries

Dinner: Baked chicken, cauliflower and broccoli mixture, quinoa (cooked in olive oil), and green tea

Snack: Mixed nuts

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Diet

Follow the nutritious breast cancer-fighting diet above before, during, and after treatment as tolerated. Choose a chemotherapy diet if you're undergoing chemo and having difficulty getting in the nutrients your body needs (due to not feeling well). Key highlights of a diet for chemo patients includes:

  • Eat five or six small meals throughout the day.
  • Eat protein foods at each meal.
  • Drink at least eight cups of water daily.
  • Eat fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes as tolerated.
  • Choose soft foods if you have a sore mouth.
  • Reach for bland foods or follow a BRAT diet if you're nauseated.
  • Try liquid meal replacement shakes or protein shakes as needed to boost protein and calories when you're feeling too sick for food.
  • Get at least 45 to 60 grams of protein daily.
  • Take multivitamin supplements as recommended by your doctor.

Eat Nutritiously

A breast cancer diet is a healthy eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods (excluding certain meats), and healthy fats. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest in addition to eating right before, during, and after breast cancer treatment.

Breast Cancer Diet