( By Dr.(Mrs.) Nandini Sarwate )

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Alternative diets for treating cancer

Alternative diets for treating cancer

Alternative diets for treating cancer have received much publicity over the past few years. You may have heard about diets that advise people with cancer not to eat meat and suggesting drinking amounts of carrot juice. Some recommend taking large doses of vitamins.

Many dramatic claims for cures of people with advanced cancer have been made and it is completely understandable that people with cancer should be attracted to diets which offer the hope of a cure. However, there is no scientific evidence that these diets cause the cancer to shrink, increase a person’s chance of survival or indeed cure the disease. As these diets have not as yet been properly studied, their effect is uncertain.

Some people do get pleasure and satisfaction from preparing these special diets, but others find them quite boring and even unpleasant to eat and time-consuming to prepare. A further problem is that some of the alternative diets are very expensive, and some can cause people to lose a lot of weight. Some even may be harmful to people with cancer.

It can be very confusing to be faced with conflicting advice about what to eat, but most doctors recommend a well-balanced diet and one that you enjoy, as described in this booklet.

If you have any queries about these diets or are thinking of following one, ask your doctor’s or dietitian’s advice.

Diet for diabetic cancer patients

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by altered blood glucose regulation and utilisation caused by insufficient or relatively ineffective insulin. Hyperglycaemia is the hallmark of diabetes. Therefore, the main aim of treatment is to maintain normal glycaemia either to prevent or delay the long term complications of diabetes through diet, exercise, education and drugs.

The nutritional requirements of diabetics and non-diabetics are the same. The normal Indian diet is usually high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Carbohydrates provide 60-65%, proteins 15-25% and fats 15-25% of the total calories needed in a diet. Thus, the normal Indian diet is ideal for such types of patients.

Diabetics need not restrict carbohydrate intake but may have to alter the type of carbohydrates in their diet. Complex carbohydrates present in cereals and pulses along with high fibre diet are good for these patients. Several studies have shown that this type of diet improves glucose tolerance as a result of improved insulin sensitivity. Western diets are low in carbohydrates and rich in fat and such diets are likely to increase serum lipids and also the risk of coronary heart disease.

Simple carbohydrates present in jam, jellies, sugar, jaggery and sweets have a higher glycaemic index and are, therefore, bad for diabetics. Such patients should avoid these simple carbohydrates (sugar, jaggery, etc.) in their diets. Instead of sugar, patients can use artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame. Their limited use (10-12 tablets per day) is normally safe. Pregnant women should avoid saccharin.

Carbohydrates in the diet should be distributed properly over the day, since blood glucose depends mainly on the intake of carbohydrates. One third (33%) of the carbohydrate intake should be served during lunch and another third (33%) at dinner. The remaining third can be served during breakfast (25%) and at the evening tea or at bedtime (9%).

For individuals with IDDM (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus), it is important to establish a regular meal pattern with a consistent day to day caloric and carbohydrate intake. In addition, the distribution of carbohydrate should match with the duration of activity and type of insulin used. For some IDDM patients, it may be necessary to give additional carbohydrate in the form of snacks before going to sleep in order to prevent hypoglycaemia particularly when they are on slow acting insulin.

Proteins from vegetarian sources like germinated grains, fermented South Indian foods (e.g. idlis), fermented Gujarati foods (e.g. khaman dhoklas) whole grain pulses, beans, legumes, dals and nuts are better than from non-vegetarian foods as they add fibres and don’t contribute cholesterol.

High fat diet increases body weight and adversely affects glucose tolerance, reduces insulin sensitivity and insulin receptor number and increases serum lipids and atherosclerosis. Diabetics should avoid hydrogenated oils (Vanaspati) and foods which are rich in saturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in fish oil. However, fish oils bring down glycaemic control. It is better to consume fish in natural form and avoid supplements of fish oil.

High fibre diets prescribed for diabetic (cancer) patients may interfere with the absorption of minerals. Similarly, low calorie diets prescribed for obese patients may not provide enough micronutrients.

Soluble fibres (pectins, gums, mucilages) present in vegetables, fruits, fenugreek seeds (methidana), gardencress seeds (Halu in Hindi and Aaliv in Marathi) are more effective in controlling blood glucose and serum lipids than insoluble fibre (cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin) present in cereals and millets. In addition to soluble fibres, the above mentioned foods also provide antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. It is beneficial to take 25g / 1000 kcal / day of dietary fibre. Apart from diabetes, dietary fibre is also beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Purified fibre supplements such as guar gum are commercially available but it is always better to include fibre rich foods in the diet than use such supplements.

Depending on the blood glucose level, the quantity of fenugreek seeds to be taken daily varies from 20 to 25g. To begin with, 20g of fenugreek seeds may be taken in three divided doses along with breakfast, lunch and dinner. These seeds may be taken as such after overnight soaking in water or in a powder form as a drink in water or buttermilk or milk five minutes before the meal.


The information in this booklet is based substantially on the CancerBACUP booklet ‘Diet and the Cancer Patient’ but has been extensively modified and Indianised by the Author Dr. Nandini Sarwate.

A special section has also been added by her on "Diet for the diabetic cancer patient”.

The information in the CancerBACUP booklet has been written in accordance with the following nutritional reports and guidelines:

  • EPIC. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. June 2001.
  • Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition. (COMA). Report 1999-2000.
  • Guidelines of the Scientific Committee on Food for the development of tolerable upper intake levels for vitamins and minerals. European Commission. October 2000.
  • Nutritional Aspects of the Development of Cancer. Department of Health. HMSO, London. 1998.

Author’s Note

  • Maintain a healthy weight and hemoglobin and be physically active.
  • Whole grain cereals, pulses and sprouts should be used as a major source of protein and energy.
  • Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Fat intake should be between 20 to 25% of the total calories.
  • Select foods low in fat.
  • Sprouted grains (eg. wheat germ), amla, onion, garlic and turmeric are considered preventive foods for cancer. To be used in plenty.
  • Select foods low in salt and avoid foods containing baking soda.
  • Intake of processed and preserved food to be reduced.
  • Fried, burned, smoked, salted and pickled foods to be limited.
  • Fungal and contaminated foods to be avoided. Prepare and store food safely.
  • Beverages to be used in moderation.
  • Do not use tobacco in any form.

Always remember

  • Think positively and be happy.

Dietary Factors in Cancers-aetiology by Site

CancersDietary Factors
1Oral Cavity, PharynxAlcohol, tobacco smoking, betel nut, gutka
2EsophagusOpium, alcohol, tobacco, brackenfern, low intake of fruits and
3StomachPickles and salted foods, red chillies, grilled, smoked and fried
foods, foods rich in starch with very little fresh fruits and
vegetables, alcoholic drinks, preserved
foods with Nitrogen addition
4Colon and RectalRefined carbohydrates, low fibre, low green and yellow
vegetables, high meat intake
5NasopharyngealSalted fish
6LarynxTobacco, alcohol
7LungTobacco, low intake of green and yellow vegetables
8BladderIndustrial chemicals, artificial sweeteners, coffee
9Prostrate, breast, cervicalLow intake of green and yellow vegetables
10PancreasTobacco, coffee and meat
11LiverMycotoxins (fungal infection of foods)
12CervixLow intake of fruits and vegetables


Sample Plan for normal eating pattern
(2000 calories and 60 gm proteins)
On risingOne lemon juice (fresh) with one teaspoon honey and a glass of water
without sugar and salt.
Breakfast• Sprouted germ dalia one bowl (60 gm) mixed with fortified milk and sugar / any other breakfast cereal / idli sambhar / cheese or chicken sandwich / stuffed Dal or Paneer parantha
• Turmeric Amla ball (haldi powder 2.5 gm, amla powder 2.5 gm,
jaggery 5 gm mix, knead and make a ball) swallow with water
• Sweet Lime / fresh fruit one
• Milk with Doodh masala one glass
NibblesJSBD laddoo one / garden cress seeds laddoo one / khajoor / nuts & dry
fruits 30 gm
Lunch• Fresh vegetable Soup one bowl
• Roti and / or Rice (as needed, minimum 2 –3)
• Dal / chicken one serving (100 gm)
• Salad (sprouted grains along with fresh vegetables) one plate
• Curd / fruit raita one serving (100 gm)
• Vegetables 1 - 2 servings
• Dessert (occasionally, as mentioned in details above) one serving
Evening tea• Tea / coffee one cup
• Seasonal fruits / fruit chat one bowl
DinnerSame as lunch
Bed timeMilk one cup along with 2 figs and 4 raisins / munakka

People with eating problems can achieve this by eating more frequently, as detailed earlier.

Wheat grass juice preparation

Wheat grass juice is prepared from the grass (plant) of wheat. Take 100 gm of wheat and sow in an earthen pot. Make a set of 7 such pots and sow the wheat in one by rotation. On the 7th day, cut the grass from the first pot. Extract the juice and drink fresh. A set of 7 pots will provide juice for 7 days. In next week follow the same cycle. Use the grass from one sowing 3 times. Then sow fresh wheat and repeat the procedure.

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