Top Cancer-Fighting Thanksgiving Dishes to Serve This Holiday

Basket of Fall Vegetables and Fruits

Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be an overwhelming task for any seasoned cook.

But what happens when one of your guests is undergoing cancer treatments?

Radiation and chemotherapy, which are used to fight mesothelioma and other cancers, can alter the patient’s sense of taste and appetite, making some foods unappetizing. Other patients experience difficulty swallowing and must only eat pureed foods.

Also, those treatments can be draining on a person’s body and energy level. Making sure a cancer patient eats the right kind of foods before and after undergoing treatment is extremely important to their overall health.

While it may seem like a daunting task, reworking tasty, cancer-fighting superfoods like mushrooms, pumpkins and cranberries into your Thanksgiving menu is easier than it sounds. By adding a few key items, you’ll make your feast patient-approved, while preserving Thanksgiving tradition.

Holiday Foods That Fight Cancer

Mushrooms and Pomegranates

Mushrooms and pomegranates contain substances that help block the hormones that make breast cancer grow and spread. According to the American Cancer Society, shiitake mushrooms fight the development and progression of cancer by boosting the body’s immune system.

They contain a compound called lentinan, which some studies show can stop or reduce tumor growth. Other studies show activated hexose-containing compound, also found in mushrooms, can reduce tumor activity and lessen the side effects of cancer treatment.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Food for Thought: Try marinating some shiitake mushrooms and including them as a Thanksgiving side dish or prepare them into savory mushroom gravy. Gravy by itself doesn’t provide much nutritional value, but adding mushrooms boosts health benefits. Plus, it makes a delicious topping on biscuits or brown rice.

Antioxidant-rich pomegranates also can help those battling cancer. A study published in Cancer Prevention Research shows doctors discovered six compounds in pomegranates that may prevent breast cancer growth by blocking aromatase, an enzyme that plays a key role in most breast cancers.

Researchers show compounds in pomegranate juice may slow the growth of prostate and breast cancer cells.

Food for Thought: Did you know that one serving of cranberries provides at least 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C and fiber, both of which are linked to reducing the risk of esophageal and colon cancer? Consider adding pomegranates to your homemade cranberry sauce or as a topping on a spinach salad. If you’re looking for a unique healthy beverage to add to your menu, try pomegranate juice.

Orange Foods Pass the Cancer-Fighting Test

While this fall squash is most commonly associated with Halloween, delicious-tasting lattes and seasonal beer, research shows pumpkins have many health benefits for cancer patients.

Beta-carotene, the pigment responsible for pumpkins’ bright-orange color, is a powerful antioxidant praised for its possible cancer-fighting power. Research shows people who eat a diet rich in beta-carotene may have a lower risk of colon, prostate and lung cancer.

Pumpkin also contains high amounts of vitamins A and C, antioxidants that help boost your immune system, and it’s rich in fiber, which slows down digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Additionally, pumpkin seeds contain phytoestrogens, a plant compound that mimics estrogen and can help prevent breast cancer.

Food for Thought: Instead of serving traditional pumpkin pie, try incorporating creamy pumpkin and curry cashew or a simple fresh pumpkin puree.

Baked Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes contain powerful antioxidants known as carotenoids, which boost your immune system and provide vitamin A. Experts say eating one cup of sweet potatoes a week could help reduce your risk of skin, prostate and lung cancers.

Food for Thought: Why not try making a sweet potato casserole with cinnamon and nutmeg? Cinnamon gives your dish added flavor. It’s also used to treat Type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Berry, Berry Beneficial

Blueberries are among the best disease-fighters out there. Researchers have shown that pterostilbene, found in high quantities in blueberries, has cancer-fighting properties.

They have the ability to control tumor growth, prevent the spread of cancer and kill off triple-negative breast cancer cells. Blueberries, cranberries and raspberries are good sources of vitamin C and fiber. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, foods high in vitamin C probably protect against cancer of the esophagus, while foods containing dietary fiber probably decrease colorectal cancer risk.

Bowls of Raspberries, Blueberries and Strawberries
Food for thought: With its disease-fighting components, an apple blueberry crisp would be the perfect dessert to complete your cancer-fighting menu.

Superfood-Filled Thanksgiving Recipes

To help you with the Thanksgiving meal preparation, we recommend that you include a few of our favorite cancer-fighting recipes.

Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce


  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 large apple (1 cup), diced ½ cup raw orange, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Small pinch of sea salt to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients (except orange juice and pomegranate seeds) into a saucepan and heat on medium-high.
  2. Bring this mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, reduce to simmer for 15 minutes on low heat until the cranberries have broken apart, all the fruit has been softened.
  3. Take of the heat after everything is soft and thickened.
  4. Stir in the pomegranate seeds and orange juice last.
  5. Serve warm or chilled.
  6. Keeps for 5-7 days in the fridge.

Fresh Pumpkin Purée


  • An 8-pound pumpkin (preferably a sugar pumpkin)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Slice off the stem end of the pumpkin 2 1/2 inches from the top, reserving it, scrape out the seeds and the membranes, reserving the seeds for toasting if desired, and brush the inside of the pumpkin with the butter.
  2. Top the pumpkin with the reserved stem end, bake it in a shallow baking pan in the middle of a preheated 375°F oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pulp is tender, and let it cool in the pan until it can be handled.
  3. Discard any liquid that may have accumulated in the pumpkin, scoop out the pulp, and in a blender purée it in batches, transferring it as it is puréed to a large sieve or colander lined with overlapping large coffee filters and set over a large bowl.
  4. Cover the surface of the purée with plastic wrap and let the purée drain, chilled, overnight.

Apple Blueberry Crisp


  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3 apples (whatever is in season), peeled
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice or the juice from half a lime
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup butter (or coconut oil), melted


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Peel and dice the apples into 1/2″ cubes. Place them in a medium bowl and toss with lime juice.
  3. Add the blueberries and fold until combined.
  4. Pour into a pie dish or 8 X 8 baking dish. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
  5. In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, flour, oats, pecans, pumpkin pie spice, and ginger. Pour in the butter and mix with a fork until the mixture resembles crumbles.
  6. Spread the crumble topping on top of the fruit. If you would like, top with a few more pecans.
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is bubbly.
  8. Allow to cool slightly.

Before preparing a Thanksgiving feast for a loved one with cancer, make sure you ask them to consult their doctor to find out which of these and other cancer-fighting superfoods would work best for them this holiday season.

Outreach Coordinator

Lynette Zilio is a public outreach coordinator for The Mesothelioma Center, where she strives to spread awareness about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in online journalism and a minor in Spanish from the University of Florida. She has an online master's in mass communication and social media from UF.

8 Cited Article Sources

  1. American Cancer Society. (2008, November 1). Shiitake Mushroom. Retrieved from:
  2. City of Hope. (n.d.). Pomegranates might prove fruitful for breast cancer suppression. Retrieved from:
  3. American Institute for Cancer Research. (2012, November 7). Thanksgiving Foods Fighting Cancer. Retrieved from:
  4. American Institute for Cancer Research. (2011, July 6). Foods That Fight Cancer? Retrieved from:
  5. National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Vitamin A. Retrieved from:
  6. Nutrition Stripped. (2013, November 25). Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce. Retrieved from:
  7. Epicurious. (2009, October). Creamy Pumpkin and Cashew Curry. Retrieved from:
  8. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Apple Blueberry Crisp. Retrieved from:

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