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

Learn about eating healthily during and after breast cancer treatment and what makes up a balanced diet.

1. What is a healthy diet?

Eating healthily is important for everyone, but when you’ve had breast cancer you may become even more aware of what you eat and drink. A balanced diet has been shown to have a range of health benefits.

But it’s important not to feel guilty if you don’t stick to a healthy diet all the time – especially while you’re coping with the other physical and emotional effects of breast cancer and its treatment.

2. The Eatwell Guide

To eat healthily during and after breast cancer treatment, try to eat a variety of foods from each of the four main food groups every day:

  1. Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
  2. Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates – choose wholegrain where possible
  3. Have some dairy or dairy alternatives – choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options, and check the label to make sure they contain calcium
  4. Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein – aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel

In addition to this:

  • Limit foods that are high in sugar (please see below)
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and use in small amounts
  • Avoid eating foods that are high in salt or fat too often
  • Limit alcohol as much as possible
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.
Pie chart showing the breakdown of a healthy, balanced diet.
Pie chart 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, it’s just about making sure you get the balance right.

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

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 January 2020. The next planned review begins in January 2023.

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