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Lung Cancer Diet: The Importance of Health Eating for Lung Cancer Patients

Going through lung cancer treatment is difficult for most. Not being able to eat because of side effects is often the case. We take a look at what you should eat.

Lung Cancer Diet

When you receive a lung cancer diagnosis, there are many aspects of your health to consider, including what you can eat and drink to help keep you feeling well. Nutrition and diet play an important role during and after cancer treatment to help you maintain your strength and recover faster.

People with lung cancer may face many hurdles with eating throughout treatment, both due to cancer treatment and cancer itself — both can change the way you eat, the way your body uses nutrients, and how you tolerate certain foods 1.

The good news is that there are lots of different things you can do during treatment to help you get the nutrients you need to support your health and help you feel better.

In this guide, we have reviewed important aspects of nutrition in patients with lung cancer and what a healthy ‘lung cancer diet’ looks like.

Benefits of good nutrition and food for lung cancer patients

Many approaches to nutrition focus on foods that may lower your risk for particular cancers, such as lung cancer. But what if you already have a diagnosis? What foods can you eat to relieve the side effects of the disease and treatments?

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that any diet, specific food, or nutrient can cure or treat lung cancer 2. However, eating a healthy, balanced diet may 1:

  • Improve your energy levels
  • Build up your strength
  • Maintain your weight through high-calorie intake
  • Prevent you from becoming malnourished
  • Lower your risk of infection
  • Help you tolerate the side effects from cancer treatment
  • Improve your quality of life

Everyone’s nutritional needs are different. The foods you should eat when you have lung cancer will be based on a number of different factors, such as your weight, type and stage of lung cancer, and your current treatment phase. For example, your nutritional needs will differ if you’re soon to have surgery to when recovering from treatment 2.

The following are some general guidelines you can follow in choosing foods that will give you good overall nutrition, support your body, and help you to keep strong.

Eat enough protein

Protein is crucial to good health 3. Protein has multiple roles in your body — from helping your body build and repair tissue, to coordinating bodily functions and facilitating metabolic reactions 3. Protein also helps keep your muscles strong, including the muscles in your chest that assist in expanding your ribs as you breathe 3.

Include lean protein at every meal and snack to ensure you get enough. Examples of lean protein include 4:

  • Lean meats, including chicken, turkey, or fish
  • Low-fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Soy foods, such as miso, edamame, and tofu

If you are struggling to consume whole foods, then it’s worth considering drinkable nutritional supplements in the form of protein supplements as a more accessible alternative.

Consume a variety of plant foods

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables provides your body with antioxidants and phytonutrients that may reduce your risk of cell damage 4. Fruits and vegetables also contain vitamins and minerals that support your immune system, helping you fight off infectious complications 5.

Try to eat a minimum of five different servings of whole fruits and vegetables each day 4.

Fill up on whole grains

Whole grains are a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, providing you with energy for breathing, daily tasks, and promoting digestive health 4.

Fill up on carbohydrates from whole grains rather than refined grains. Whole grains are a better source of fiber and other vital nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins, folate, potassium, magnesium, and selenium 6. They also help you to feel fuller for longer 6.

Possible whole grain options include 6:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain pasta

It's not always easy to tell what kind of grains a product has, especially bread, so you may have to check the product label or the nutrition facts panel 6.

Include healthy fats

Choose sources of healthy fats and avoid greasy, fried, and fatty foods. For example, omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in your body, and support your brain and nervous system 4.

Healthy sources of fat include 4:

  • Nuts
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados

Drink enough water

Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can lead to dehydration 7.

During cancer treatment, it is important to drink enough water or fluids to help you 7:

  • Prevent dehydration if you have vomiting or diarrhea
  • Improve your digestion
  • Stop your mouth from becoming dry
  • Improve your energy levels

Aim to drink at least four 8-ounce glasses of water every day 1. You may need extra fluids if you’re throwing up or have diarrhea 1. If you have no appetite, it may help to drink little and often throughout the day rather than having fluid at mealtimes.

Do not drink too many caffeinated beverages, as excessive caffeine can contribute to dehydration, which in turn leads to constipation 8.

Food to avoid for lung cancer patients

If you have lung cancer, what you eat plays a crucial part in helping you cope with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

There are also foods you should avoid to ensure they don’t worsen side effects or increase your risk of infection.

The following foods may trigger side effects during lung cancer treatment 8:

  • Greasy or spicy foods may contribute to nausea and diarrhea
  • Foods and beverages that are hot in temperature may upset your stomach
  • Dairy products can also upset your stomach
  • Caffeinated drinks may cause you to lose fluids and lead to constipation

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, decrease your white blood cell count 8. This makes you more vulnerable to infection, and makes it easier for germs and bacteria common in some foods to enter your system 8.

It’s advisable to avoid or limit the following foods and drinks when your immune system is weakened 4, 9:

  • Raw milk or dairy products that aren’t pasteurized
  • Some baked goods (anything cream- or custard-filled that’s not refrigerated)
  • Raw or lightly cooked fish, shellfish, sushi, or sashimi
  • Raw and unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • Raw or soft-cooked eggs, including eggs that are over-easy, soft-boiled, poached, and sunny side up
  • Soft, mold-ripened or blue-veined cheese, such as camembert, brie, stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola
  • Certain meats — cold hot dogs, deli lunch meats, cold cuts, dry-cured salamis, any uncooked meat

Some of these foods can carry harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, which cause many cases of food poisoning each year 8.

Make sure that you always check sell-by and use-by dates and ensure you cook all foods thoroughly.

Speak with a healthcare professional about how long you should use food precautions and when you can add specific foods back into your diet.

Nutritional supplements for lung cancer

Doctors may recommend nutritional supplements or multivitamins for people with severe side effects who can’t get enough nutrients through their food.

Dietary supplements they may recommend include 10:

  • Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, to potentially improve digestion
  • Melatonin, which may help improve sleep
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, may reduce inflammation and improve immunity
  • High-calorie supplements to improve calorie intake
  • Various protein supplements to support strength and recovery

Doctors usually advise people to try and get all of their nutrients through food and only take supplements when deficient. You should always consult your doctor before trying any supplements, as they may interfere with your treatment.

Making small changes to your diet

Maintaining your weight and staying strong is vital when you have lung cancer, but it can be a struggle to eat when you have side effects from cancer treatments.

You can try making a few dietary changes, such as 11:

  • Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day instead of three larger meals
  • Eating foods that provide more calories in smaller quantities, such as cheese, nuts, and peanut butter
  • Eating iron-rich foods, such as brown rice, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, and lean meat

Your cancer team will advise on how best to support your body during this time, and tailor a dietary plan to meet your individual needs and circumstances.



1. American Cancer Society. Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. Updated 2022. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

2. American Lung Association. Nutrition and lung cancer treatment. Updated 2021. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

3. Van De Walle G. 9 Important Functions of Protein in Your Body. Healthline. 2018. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

4. Reif Ellis R. Best Foods for Lung Cancer. WebMD. 2020. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

5. Harvard T.H. Chan. Nutrition and Immunity. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

6. Mayo Clinic. Nutrition and healthy eating. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

7. DiLonardo MJ. Cancer Treatment: Make Sure You Get Enough Water. WebMD. 2021. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

8. McQueen J. Foods to Avoid With Lung Cancer. WebMD. 2021. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

9. Cancer.Net. Foods to avoid during cancer treatment. 2014. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

10. LungCancer.Net. Dietary supplements. 2017. Updated 2022. Accessed October 2022. Available at:

11. National Cancer Institute. Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment. NIH Publication No. 18-7157. January 2018. Accessed October 2022. Available at: