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12 Beneficial Fruits to Eat During and After Cancer Treatment

Health + Wellness
Kwangmoozaa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

It's no secret that your diet can affect your risk of developing cancer.


Similarly, filling up on healthy foods is important if you are being treated for or recovering from cancer.

Certain foods, including fruits, contain health-promoting compounds that may slow tumor growth and reduce certain side effects of treatment to help ease your road to recovery.

Here are the 12 best fruits to eat during and after cancer treatment.

Fruit Choices for Those With Cancer 

When being treated for or recovering from cancer, your food choices are incredibly important.

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can cause many side effects, which can be either worsened or improved by what you eat and drink.

Common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation include (1, 2Trusted Source):

  • fatigue
  • anemia
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • changes in appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • painful swallowing
  • dry mouth
  • mouth sores
  • impaired focus
  • mood changes

Filling your diet with nutritious foods, including fruits, helps supply your body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants throughout your cancer treatment.

However, it's important to tailor your fruit choices to your specific symptoms.

For example, puréed fruits or fruit smoothies are a good option if you have difficulty swallowing, while fruits rich in fiber can help promote regularity if you are experiencing constipation.

You may also want to avoid certain fruits based on your symptoms. For example, citrus fruits may irritate mouth sores and worsen the feeling of dry mouth.

Lastly, whole fruits like apples, apricots, and pears are hard for some people with cancer to eat due to mouth sores, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, or nausea.

Summary

Some foods can either worsen or improve certain side effects of cancer treatments. It's best to tailor your fruit choices to your specific symptoms.

1. Blueberries

Blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse, packing plenty of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese into each serving (3).

They're also rich in antioxidants and have been well studied for their cancer-fighting effects (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).

Blueberries may also help alleviate chemo brain, a term used to describe problems with memory and concentration that some people experience during cancer treatment and recovery.

One small study found that drinking blueberry juice daily for 12 weeks improved memory and learning in older adults (7Trusted Source).

Similarly, a recent review of 11 studies reported that blueberries improved several aspects of brain function in children and adults (8Trusted Source).

While these studies did not include people undergoing cancer treatment, the findings may still apply.

Summary

Blueberries may help fight cancer growth and improve chemo brain, a term used to describe impairments in memory and concentration due to cancer treatment.

2. Oranges

Oranges are a common type of citrus fruit, favored for their sweet taste, vibrant color, and stellar nutrient profile.

Just one medium orange can meet and exceed your daily needs for vitamin C, all while supplying other important nutrients like thiamine, folate, and potassium (9).

Vitamin C plays a key role in immunity and can help strengthen your immune system during and after cancer treatment (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).

Research suggests that vitamin C may reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells and act as a therapeutic against certain types of cancer (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

Vitamin C from oranges can also boost the absorption of iron from foods. This helps protect against anemia, a common side effect of chemotherapy (14Trusted Source).

Summary

Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, which can help strengthen your immune function, reduce cancer cell growth, and increase iron absorption.

3. Bananas

Bananas can be a great dietary addition for those recovering from cancer.

They're not only easy to tolerate for those with swallowing difficulties but also a good source of many important nutrients, including vitamin B6, manganese, and vitamin C (15).

Additionally, bananas contain a type of fiber called pectin, which can be especially beneficial for those experiencing diarrhea caused by cancer treatments (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).

Because bananas are rich in potassium, they can also help replenish electrolytes lost through diarrhea or vomiting.

Furthermore, test-tube studies have observed that pectin may help protect against the growth and development of colon cancer cells (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).

That said, more research is needed to determine whether the pectin found in bananas could slow cancer cell growth in humans.

Summary

Bananas contain pectin, which can reduce diarrhea and has been shown to protect against colon cancer in test-tube studies.

4. Grapefruit

Grapefruit is a nutritious fruit loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

In addition to providing a hearty dose of vitamin C, provitamin A, and potassium, it's rich in beneficial compounds like lycopene (21).

Lycopene is a carotenoid with potent anticancer properties. Some research suggests that it may reduce certain negative side effects of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation (22Trusted Source).

One study in 24 adults found that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of juice from citrus fruits, including grapefruit, increased blood flow to the brain, which could help mitigate chemo brain (23Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that grapefruit might interfere with certain medications, so it's best to talk to your doctor before adding it to your diet (24Trusted Source).

Summary

Grapefruit is rich in antioxidants like lycopene, which has anticancer properties and may reduce some side effects of cancer treatments. It has also been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which may ease chemo brain.

5. Apples

Apples are not only one of the most popular fruits but also one of the most nutritious.

Each serving is rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C — all of which can benefit cancer recovery (25).

The fiber found in apples can promote regularity and keep things moving through your digestive tract (26Trusted Source).

Potassium affects your fluid balance and can help prevent fluid retention, a common side effect of some types of chemotherapy (27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).

Lastly, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to support immune function and fight cancer cell growth (10Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).

Summary

Apples are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Hence, they can help promote regularity, reduce fluid retention, and support immune health.

6. Lemons

Known for their sour taste and signature citrus scent, lemons deliver a burst of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in every serving.

They're especially high in vitamin C, but also contain some potassium, iron, and vitamin B6 (29).

Test-tube studies have found that lemon extract may help prevent the growth of several types of cancer cells (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).

Some animal studies also show that certain compounds in lemons, including limonene, could boost your mood and fight stress to combat depression and anxiety (32, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).

While more research is needed to confirm these findings in humans, enjoying lemons in your favorite drinks and desserts as part of a healthy diet could be beneficial.

Summary

Lemons have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test-tube studies. They also contain compounds that may boost your mood and reduce your stress levels.

7. Pomegranates

Pomegranates are delicious, nutritious, and brimming with health benefits, making them a great addition to any diet.

Like other fruits, they're high in vitamin C and fiber but also pack plenty of vitamin K, folate, and potassium (35).

Plus, some research has found that eating pomegranates may improve your memory, which could help those affected by impairments in focus or concentration caused by chemotherapy (36Trusted Source).

A study in 28 people showed that drinking 8 ounces (237 ml) of pomegranate juice daily for 4 weeks led to increased brain activity and improved memory (37Trusted Source).

What's more, animal studies have found that pomegranates may help reduce joint pain, another common side effect of cancer treatments like chemotherapy (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).

Summary

Pomegranates may help improve memory and reduce joint pain, both of which are common side effects of cancer treatment.

8. Mulberries

Mulberries are a type of colorful fruit from the same family as figs and breadfruit.

They have been used to treat cancer in many traditional forms of medicine, and emerging research has begun to confirm their potential cancer-fighting effects (41Trusted Source, 42Trusted Source).

Mulberries are one of the few fruits rich in both vitamin C and iron, which may help protect against anemia caused by cancer treatments (43).

They're also high in a type of plant fiber known as lignins, which have been shown to enhance immune function and kill cancer cells in test-tube studies (44Trusted Source).

Additional studies are needed to evaluate if eating mulberries in normal amounts may be beneficial during and after cancer treatment.

Summary

Mulberries are high in vitamin C and iron, which can help reduce the risk of anemia. They also contain lignins, which may increase immune function and possess anticancer properties.

9. Pears

Pears are versatile, full of flavor, and easy to enjoy as part of a healthy diet.

They're also highly nutritious, supplying a wealth of fiber, copper, vitamin C, and vitamin K in each serving (45).

Copper, in particular, plays a central role in immune function and reduces your body's susceptibility to infection, which can be beneficial during cancer treatment (46Trusted Source).

Like other fruits, pears may contain powerful cancer-fighting compounds.

In fact, a study in over 478,000 people showed that a higher intake of apples and pears was associated with a lower risk of developing lung cancer (47Trusted Source).

Anthocyanins, a type of plant pigment found in pears, have also been linked to decreased cancer growth and tumor formation in test-tube studies (48Trusted Source, 49Trusted Source).

Summary

Pears are rich in copper and contain anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce cancer growth in test-tube studies.

10. Strawberries

Thanks to their fresh, sweet taste, strawberries are a favorite among fruit lovers.

They are rich in vitamin C, folate, manganese, and potassium, along with antioxidant compounds like pelargonidin (50, 51).

In addition to boasting an impressive nutrient profile, strawberries may offer several benefits specific to cancer recovery.

First, ripe strawberries are soft, making them suitable for those with mild swallowing difficulties (52).

What's more, one animal study showed that administering freeze-dried strawberries to hamsters with oral cancer helped reduce tumor formation (53Trusted Source).

Another study in mice found that strawberry extract helped kill breast cancer cells and block tumor growth (54Trusted Source).

That said, high-quality studies are needed to determine if strawberries exhibit anticancer effects in humans when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Summary

Strawberries are rich in antioxidants and may help decrease cancer cell growth. Ripe berries are also soft, making them a good choice for those with mild swallowing difficulties.

11. Cherries

Cherries are a type of stone fruit that belongs to the same genus as peaches, plums, and apricots.

Each serving of cherries supplies a hearty dose of vitamin C, potassium, and copper (55).

These small fruits are also a good source of antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all of which can benefit your health (56Trusted Source).

Many studies have found that the antioxidants found in cherries could help slow the growth of cancer cells.

For example, one test-tube study showed that cherry extract killed and stopped the spread of breast cancer cells (57Trusted Source).

Another animal study observed similar findings, noting that certain compounds found in tart cherries reduced the growth of colon cancer cells in mice (58Trusted Source).

However, these studies analyzed the effects of highly concentrated cherry extracts. Additional research is needed to evaluate if these findings also apply to humans when cherries are eaten in normal amounts.

Summary

Cherries are rich in antioxidants and have been shown to decrease the growth of cancer cells in test-tube and animal studies.

12. Blackberries

Blackberries are a type of berry notable for their sweet, yet slightly bitter taste and deep purple hue.

This popular fruit is high in vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin K (59).

Blackberries also contain an array of antioxidants, including ellagic acid, gallic acid, and chlorogenic acid (60Trusted Source).

According to some research, eating berries may help protect against DNA damage, neutralize harmful compounds called free radicals, and slow the growth and spread of cancer cells (61Trusted Source).

Other test-tube and animal studies suggest that blackberries can preserve brain health and enhance memory, potentially preventing certain side effects of chemotherapy (62Trusted Source, 63Trusted Source, 64Trusted Source).

However, further studies are needed to determine if blackberries offer similar benefits in humans.

Summary

Blackberries are rich in antioxidants that may help protect against cancer. Test-tube and animal studies show that they may also promote brain health, which could prevent certain side effects of cancer treatment.

The Bottom Line

Eating certain fruits can significantly affect your health, especially during and after cancer treatment.

Many fruits provide antioxidants to help fight the growth of cancer cells and may even offer other health benefits to help ease certain side effects of treatment.

oEnjoying these healthy fruits in combination with a well-rounded diet can keep you feeling your best and get you started on the road to recovery.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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