Good nutrition offers mesothelioma patients a concrete way to support their own health at a challenging time. Getting accurate and evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition and cancer is a great place to start.
This information can help you make the most of your diet and select foods that will nourish your body as you go through treatment.
Questions About Foods and Nutrients
Many people have questions about whether specific foods and nutrients affect how cancer may grow and spread. We’ve answered the most common cancer, food and nutrient questions for you.
- Does sugar feed cancer?
No. Cancer cells can use sugar for energy, but they also use protein and fat. In this sense, sugar, which is a type of carbohydrate, does not specifically feed cancer any more than other nutrients.
Research does not link moderate amounts of dietary sugar to the development or growth of cancer in people. A 2019 comprehensive review paper, published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no solid evidence of a connection between dietary sugar and cancer risk.
However, there is good evidence that malnutrition can make it harder for your body to recover from chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and other medical interventions.
Eat small, frequent meals and snacks with plenty of protein to support good nutrition before, during and after mesothelioma treatment. Add carbohydrates and healthy fats for energy.
- What should I eat during treatment?
Eating the right foods at the right time can help you cope with the dietary side effects of mesothelioma treatment.
One of the major challenges during treatment is getting enough protein and calories to prevent weight loss. Maintaining your weight and strength is important; this supports healing, aids recovery and allows for good immune function.
Examples of high-protein foods are chicken, fish, lean beef and pork, Greek yogurt, beans, nuts, spinach, cheese, eggs and soy foods such as tofu or tempeh.
To get extra calories, include healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, peanut butter, other nut butters and olive oil. Eat starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash. Enjoy fruit as a snack and with meals.
Mesothelioma may also cause vitamin deficiencies. For example, a 2021 clinical research study found that patients with asbestos-related diseases had lower vitamin D levels than healthy patients. For some, vitamin supplements may be necessary to maintain healthy levels.
- Do soy foods cause cancer?
No. Soy foods do not cause cancer. It is a myth that soy foods are bad for people.
Soy foods have be consumed by significant portions of the human population for over 2,000 years, and possibly much longer.
Interestingly, areas of the world where soy has the longest record of consumption are the same places where health researchers document low rates of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and dementia.
Soy is a staple in many Asian diets, and populations that eat these foods experience lower rates of many chronic health issues compared with Western populations.
In the end, the choice to consume soy comes down to preference. If you enjoy these foods, you should continue to do so, even after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
If you don’t like soy foods, eat other high-protein options such as chicken, fish, lean beef, beans, eggs, dairy and pork.
- What can I eat to cure my cancer?
Current research does not support specific foods or a special diet to cure cancer.
There is good evidence that preventing malnutrition and maintaining weight and strength during treatment can improve the body’s ability to benefit from cancer therapies.
Focusing on a well-balanced diet before, during and after mesothelioma treatment provides the nutrients needed to heal and recover.
This approach also supports the body’s rebuilding of immune cells that can be damaged by chemotherapy drugs.
Avoiding extreme or fad diets and eating plenty of protein are key steps for getting the most out of what you’re eating during cancer care.
- Does coconut oil fight cancer?
No. Coconut oil is not proven to fight cancer or kill cancer cells in the body.
Some people do find coconut oil easier to tolerate during treatment. It contains a special type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These fats can be more easily digestible.
However, coconut oil does not have any research-proven, cancer-fighting effects.
Because coconut oil contains MCTs, some people rely on this fat for extra calories during cancer treatment.
If a person has malabsorption due to cancer treatment, they should not use coconut oil. Instead, they will need an MCT-based medical nutrition product.
- Does gluten cause cancer?
No. Gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye — is not associated with increased risk of cancer in the general population.
For people with a condition called celiac disease, consuming gluten causes a severe, autoimmune reaction in the body.
With celiac diseases, avoiding gluten is very important for preventing serious negative health consequences, including increased risk of rare small intestine tumors and some blood cancers.
In the U.S., approximately 1-2 percent of the population has celiac disease.
If you are not among the small percentage of people with the disease, there is no connection between gluten in the diet and cancer risk.
- Should I eat all organic food?
You do not need to eat 100 percent organic after a mesothelioma diagnosis. The traces of pesticide residues on non-organic foods are not strongly associated with increased cancer risk.
However, large occupational exposures to these chemicals are linked with health effects. For example, farmers who apply pesticides regularly and people who manufacture and transport them may experience increased cancer risk from these exposures.
On a personal basis, if organic foods are available, you like them and you can afford them, these are an excellent choice.
However, if buying organic isn’t feasible, continue to eat a wide variety of all foods for optimal nutritional status and health.
Questions About Diets
People with cancer may hear or read about diets that are promoted as a way to cure cancer. While no diet can cure cancer, some may be more helpful for supporting cancer patients in active treatment.
- Will a ketogenic diet cure my cancer?
No. There is no evidence that a ketogenic diet can cure cancer. Some studies suggest a ketogenic diet may alleviate treatment symptoms associated with specific cancer types such as brain tumors.
Yet other studies suggest ketones, the fuel the body uses on a keto diet, can promote the growth and spread of specific tumor types. Clearly, the potential benefits and harms of a ketogenic will depend on many factors including cancer type and other health issues.
No studies show a ketogenic diet is superior to a typical healthy diet for improving outcomes or survival in cancer patients.
Currently, ClinicalTrials.gov lists around two dozen clinical trials on the ketogenic diet and cancer, so oncologists and dietitians should be able to answer the questions regarding which cancer patients may benefit from the diet and who should avoid it.
- Will juicing cure my cancer?
No. When it comes to mesothelioma, there is no cure. As for other cancers, juicing will not cure them either. While 100 percent vegetable and fruit juices can be a useful way to get more vitamins and minerals into your diet, whole foods are always the best, first option.
For people who are unable to digest or tolerate the fiber from whole vegetables and fruit, juicing can be a good way to these nutrients into the diet.
- Focus on vegetables. For the healthiest juices, include more vegetables than fruit. For example, juice one carrot, a chunk of cucumber, a small beet, a piece of ginger and a small apple.
- Juice only what you’d eat. Juice packs a lot of nutrition in a smaller volume than whole food. Eight ounces or less of most homemade juice mixtures is plenty.
- Go Protein. Have your juice with a serving of protein and some fat such as a handful of nuts or scrambled eggs. Protein balances carbohydrates, and fat aids fat-soluble nutrient absorption.
- Embrace variety. Avoid overdoing it on just a few specific foods. By mixing it up, you get the greatest variety of nutrients possible.
- Count cruciferous. This family of vegetables includes broccoli, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard and mustard greens, turnips and radishes. One serving daily is the healthiest option for these foods.
- Will the Budwig Diet cure my cancer?
No. There is no evidence the Budwig Diet can cure cancer. There are no research studies demonstrating a Budwig Diet is superior to a normal, healthy diet for improving outcomes or survival in cancer patients.
ClinicalTrials.gov currently does not list any ongoing investigations on the Budwig Diet and cancer outcomes of following that diet.
There are case reports that some alternative cancer diets can be harmful for cancer patients because they contribute to malnutrition. For many people with cancer, a restrictive alternative diet such as Budwig can worsen symptoms and side effects of treatment.
Questions About Supplements
Some patients may need to take a dietary supplement during treatment to address a vitamin or mineral deficiency, However, you should not take these products without discussing it with your cancer care team first.
While some nutrients can help address a less-than-optimal diet, other over-the-counter products can cause more harm than good. We answer some of the most common questions about dietary supplements and cancer.
- Can I take antioxidant supplements during treatment?
Do not take antioxidant dietary supplements during treatment, unless you clear it with your oncologist first. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, co-enzyme Q10, quercetin, resveratrol, selenium, glutathione and vitamins A, C and E.
Taking a daily multivitamin with modest amounts of these nutrients is fine. Larger megadoses may interfere with the efficacy of some cancer treatments.
It is safe and healthy to eat antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, tea, whole grains and beans, during and after treatment.
However, to avoid negative interactions with cancer treatment, do not use high-dose antioxidant dietary supplements during mesothelioma treatment.
- Will herbs and dietary supplements interfere with my treatments?
Yes. Some herbs and dietary supplements can interfere with cancer treatment. Do not take any dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals or other over the counter products without discussing it with your cancer care team first.
While some dietary supplements may be safe to take during treatment, others can lessen the efficacy of cancer therapies or increase the likelihood of toxic side effects.
To stay safe and ensure you gain maximum benefit from all of your mesothelioma treatments, always talk to your doctor before adding in any over the counter products such as herbs and dietary supplements.
Questions About Other Nutrition Topics
There is an endless amount of cancer nutrition information on the internet, making it difficult to find accurate information on some general topics. We address these questions.
- Does alcohol cause cancer?
Yes. It is well documented in dozens of research studies: Alcohol can increase the risk of several tumor types.
Cancers associated with alcohol consumption include mouth, throat (pharynx, larynx and esophagus), breast, colon, rectum, stomach and liver.
Even small amounts of alcohol, if consumed regularly, increase the risk of certain cancers such as breast.
Alcohol is not associated with increased risk of mesothelioma. The main cause of this disease is exposure to asbestos.
- Did pesticides in my food cause my cancer?
No. Trace amounts of pesticides found on conventionally produced foods has not been strongly linked with increased cancer risk.
People who are exposed to these substances in larger quantities such as farmers, agricultural workers and landscapers, may experience negative health effects.
A 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested people who eat a mostly organic diet have reduced cancer risk compared to consumers of non-organic foods. However, the study is observational. It cannot prove cause and effect.
Further, this type of research can be misleading. It is likely people who eat more organic food also engage in other cancer-protective health behaviors such as exercising more, drinking less alcohol and eating a healthier diet overall.
Due to these confounding factors, there is no way to know if organic foods themselves are what led to lower cancer risk.
For the average food consumer, including people with cancer, following recommended food safety practices is the most important thing you can do to keep your food safe and nutritious.
Avoiding pesticide use in and around the home is another practical way you can minimize your exposure to these potentially harmful substances.