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Eating well

How can eating well help?

In addition to the many physical health benefits, taking steps towards eating well during cancer treatment can give you a sense of control, by focusing on something positive that you can do for yourself.

It may help to:

  • Boost your immunity
  • Improve your overall health and sense of wellbeing
  • Improve energy levels and reduce fatigue
  • Speed up your recovery after treatment
  • Improve your sleep
  • Manage some of the side-effects of treatment
  • Reduce the risk of your cancer coming back.

It is important not to lose weight during treatment, even if you are overweight and would like to. 

The effects of unintentional weight loss may mean:

  • You are more likely to lose muscle than fat. This can affect your strength, mobility and energy levels.
  • You are more at risk of infections and treatment side effects
  • Your body shape could change. This could affect the accuracy of your radiotherapy treatment because the X-rays are targeted at tumour cells.  If your body shape changes the radiographers may need to re-plan your radiotherapy to ensure they can treat accurately.
  • Your chemotherapy doses may need to be adjusted as chemotherapy treatments are often prescribed based on your weight.

 If you are losing weight without trying, you can find dietary information to help prevent further weight loss here.

What does eating well mean?

You can watch our 'Eating well' webinar and download the 'Eating well during cancer treatment' resource which was written by Dietitians across the Bristol and Weston area with Macmillan and Penny Brohn.


Click on image to enlarge

The Eatwell Guide is a visual representation of how different foods contribute towards a healthy balanced diet. Trying to get all food groups in across the day or week will help you achieve a healthy balanced diet and get all the nourishment your body needs from food. The Eatwell guide is applicable for the general population and for people with cancer.

Fruit and vegetables:

  • Aim for 5 portions or more fruit and vegetables per day. A portion is 80g of fresh fruit or vegetables.
  • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables all count.  One portion of dried fruit (30g) and 1 portion of juice (150ml) also count as one of your 5 a day.
  • Fruits and vegetables provide the body with vital vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and fibre.   

Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates:

  • This group should make up a third of our daily intake.
  • Examples include bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, cereals, cous- cous, crackers and plain biscuits and other grains.
  • Try to choose wholegrain/higher fibre varieties unless you have been told otherwise by a healthcare professional. Foods rich in fibre and wholegrains provide us with vitamins and minerals and can help regulate bowel movements to prevent constipation.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins: 

  • Meat, fish, beans, pulses, nuts, Quorn, soya and eggs.
  • Aim for 2 portions of fish each week, ideally one of which should be an oily fish e.g. salmon, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, or trout.
  • These foods are a good source of protein which is essential for growth, strength and repair especially after surgery and during cancer treatments.

Dairy and alternatives:

  • Cow's milk, yoghurt, cheese, dairy alternatives
  • These foods are a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals e.g. Vitamin B12, calcium and iodine
  • When choosing alternative milks be mindful that many have far less protein than cow's milk and are not nutritionally equivalent so you will need to ensure you get protein from other food sources. Try to ensure that dairy alternatives are fortified with Calcium.

Oils and Spreads:

  • These foods are the most energy dense foods. We need very small portions to obtain the nutritional benefits from them.
  • Try to choose unsaturated (vegetable) oils and spreads where possible e.g. olive or rapeseed oil, avocado nuts and seeds. 

Foods high in fat and sugar:

  • E.g. cakes, biscuits, ice cream, fried foods, takeaways, sugary drinks and sweets
  • Eat in moderation. These foods are generally high in calories (energy) and if eaten in excess can lead to weight gain.


  • Fluid is really important for hydration. Good hydration levels can also help with energy levels and concentration.
  • Aim to have at least 6-8 cups of fluid per day. This includes water, tea, coffee, low fat milk, or sugar free drinks but alcohol does not count! Fruit juice and smoothies can be counted but limit to a total of 150ml per day. 
  • You may need to drink more if you are having chemotherapy or if you are having treatment side effects such as constipation, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Dietary recommendations for cancer prevention and after cancer treatment

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends the following for cancer prevention and for health and wellbeing after cancer treatment.

  1. Be a healthy weight - After choosing not to smoke, being a healthy weight is one of the most important ways you can reduce your risk of cancer and other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The WCRF Be a Healthy Weight guide can be found here.
  2. Move more
  3. Enjoy more wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and beans
  4. Limit processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fibre or high in fat
  5. Limit red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) to 350-500g (cooked weight) per week and avoid processed meat (e.g. bacon, salami, chorizo, ham, corned beef)
  6. Limit sugar sweetened drinks
  7. For cancer prevention, don't drink alcohol (if you do, limit to 14 units per week with at least 2 alcohol free days)
  8. Don't rely on supplements to protect against cancer