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Diet and breast cancer: Why is a balanced diet important?

Learn about what makes up a healthy, balanced diet and how you can eat healthily during and after breast cancer treatment.

1. Why follow a healthy diet?

Eating healthily is important for everyone, but if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may become even more aware of what you eat and drink.

A balanced diet can have a range of health benefits. But it’s important not to feel guilty if you don’t stick to it all the time – especially while you’re coping with the other physical and emotional effects of breast cancer and its treatment. It’s just about getting the balance right.

You may have read about specific foods being good or bad for people with breast cancer, but these claims often aren’t backed up by scientific evidence.

It can be beneficial to follow the Eatwell Guide and eat a varied and nutritious diet.

2. The Eatwell Guide

Try to eat a variety of foods from each of the 4 main food groups every day.

The Eatwell Guide shows the different types of foods you should eat and in what proportions. It recommends you:

  1. Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
  2. Eat plenty of starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice, yams and pasta. They’re a great source of energy and the main source of various important nutrients – choose higher fibre or wholegrain options like brown rice
  3. Have some dairy or dairy alternatives – choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options, and check the label to make sure they have added calcium
  4. Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein – aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week, 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel. Choose lean cuts of meat and mince, and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages

You should also try to:

  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, such as olive or sunflower oil, and use them in small amounts
  • Eat smaller amounts of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, and have them less often
  • Limit alcohol as much as possible
  • Drink plenty of fluids
Pie chart showing the breakdown of a healthy, balanced diet. The majority of the pie chart is taken up by fruit and vegetables, shown as a green section, and by potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates, shown as a yellow-orange section.
Diagram showing the breakdown of a healthy, balanced diet.
Diagram showing the breakdown of a healthy, balanced diet.

Eating healthily doesn’t mean you can’t have any of the foods or drinks you enjoy that might not be considered healthy, such as those high in fat, salt and sugar. If you follow the Eatwell Guide you can still enjoy these from time to time.

The Mediterranean diet is an example of a diet that contains a balanced mix of different food groups. It’s high in vegetables and fruits, and contains healthy fats such as olive oil.

There are alternative versions of the Eatwell Guide available online for people following vegetarian, vegan, African and Caribbean and South Asian diets.

3. Hidden sugars

Some foods that seem healthy may contain a lot of sugar. For example, dried fruit contains much more sugar than fresh fruit. Alcoholic drinks and some diet foods may also have a high amount of sugar. It’s best to check the labels when considering your sugar intake.

Find out more about diet during treatment.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in May 2024. The next planned review begins in May 2026.

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