Eating well FAQs

Frequently asked questions and sources of support for diet and eating during and after cancer treatment. 

What if I have diabetes or I am on a cholesterol lowering diet?

Generally, these diets recommend a high intake of fruit and vegetables and lower fat foods. If your appetite is poor or you are losing weight, this may not be appropriate at this time. Please ask your doctor or dietitian for advice.

Should I be having a vitamin or mineral supplement?

If you are able to eat a diet with a variety of foods you probably don't need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement. If your appetite is poor then you may need a supplement to meet your daily requirements. Take care not to buy different vitamin and mineral preparations that provide the same nutrients as this may lead to you taking excess quantities of some vitamins and minerals.

It is important to remember that some of the vitamins and minerals can be harmful when taken in high doses and can react with some medications. Ask your dietitian, doctor or pharmacist for advice before starting to take these supplements.

Should I be eating organic fruit and vegetables?

The term organic refers to food that is produced under strict guidance.  In Europe the standards are set in EU law and restrict the use of pesticides and prevent the use of herbicides in the production of food.   Some people choose to eat organic foods because they are worried about residues of these pesticides in food or they may be concerned about the impact that farming has on the environment.   Cost may however be a factor as organic foods can be more expensive than non-organic foods. 

Research has shown that organically grown fruit, vegetables and cereals are nutritionally different. On average, they contain higher levels of compounds with antioxidant activity and lower levels of some contaminants such as the heavy metal cadmium. They also contain around four times fewer pesticides, and the best way to reduce your exposure to pesticides in all food is to buy organic. 
However, so far no research has been done to look at whether these differences result in additional health benefits. It is therefore not yet possible to state overall what the long term health benefits are of eating an organic diet or choosing to include some organic foods in the diet. More research is needed to answer these questions.

Should I be following a 'special' diet?

If you are not eating well, try to follow some of the tips in this section of the website or in the Eating well booklet, available for download below.

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in diet and cancer, especially complementary and alternative diets. Some people have claimed to cure or control cancer using a diet, and people are often confused as to whether or not they should follow one of these.

There have been few clinical trials or research studies to see if these diets do what they claim. To date there is no scientific evidence to support claims made by complementary or alternative diets. It is unlikely once you have cancer that any change in diet will have a similar benefit to medical treatment.

If you are considering following one of these diets, discuss it with your doctor or dietitian. The dietitian may help you make a choice by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different diets. They will ensure that your diet is well balanced and meets your needs, particularly if you are having treatment that may affect your digestion or ability to eat.

Often complementary and alternative diets are difficult to follow and low in energy. They may encourage weight loss, particularly if you have a poor appetite.

I have been following a low-fat healthy-eating diet; should I continue with this?

If you are eating well and do not have a loss of appetite or weight loss then continue to eat your usual foods. However, it is more common to lose weight during treatment. During this period it is important to try and increase your energy intake. Increasing your fat intake is an easy way of making meals palatable and higher in energy.

If I am overweight does it matter if I lose weight?

Yes. It is not good to lose weight during treatment as it may make you more susceptible to infections and poor wound-healing. Follow the advice in this section of the website or in the Eating well booklet, available for download below, if you are losing weight, whatever your usual weight.

What is the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

All dietitians who work in the NHS are registered. This means that they all belong to a regulatory body that aims to protect the public. It ensures that dietitians are competent to practice and that they follow a code of conduct to protect the public from unprofessional or unethical behaviour. Dietitians give advice about diet that is based on sound scientific evidence.

Nutritionists, nutritional therapists or nutrition consultants are not eligible to be registered. They may have very varied training and do not belong to an outside professional regulatory body. In some circumstances the advice they give may be linked to selling nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals.

Sources of information and support

Department of Health Information Advisers

Tel: 020 7210 4850

Macmillan Cancer Support
Provides free information and emotional support for people living with cancer, and information about UK cancer support groups and organisations.

Cancer Equality
Has booklets on African-Caribbean and Chinese aspects of diet for cancer patients.

Find out more

Further information can be found in this section of the website and in the Eating well booklet, available to download below, or by contacting the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).