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Fruits to Eat When You Have Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 25, 2020

You already know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is good for you. But when you're going through cancer treatment or trying to keep cancer from coming back, some fruits may be better than others.

The research on fruits and cancer isn’t perfect. There aren’t many studies, and the results are often inconsistent. No food, and certainly no one fruit, can prevent or fight cancer.

Still, certain types of fruits may have cancer-fighting qualities. Others can make it easier for you to cope with the side effects of treatments.

Fruit During Cancer Treatment

Fruit provides nutrients that you need during cancer treatment. Some fruits may also help ease discomfort. Experts recommend these, depending on how you feel:

  • For nausea and vomiting: canned fruit, applesauce, peaches, and other soft fruit
  • For constipation: raw fruits, dried fruits, prune juice
  • For diarrhea: fruit juices, bananas, and apples as part of the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) diet
  • For loss of appetite: high-calorie foods, including dried fruit and fruit smoothies
  • For mouth sores: nectars, apple juice, canned fruit, applesauce

Citrus Fruit

Citrus fruit, like grapefruits and oranges, may have a role in preventing certain cancers. One large study in Japan found that people who had citrus fruits or juices 3-4 days a week were less likely to get cancer than those who had them 2 or fewer days a week.

Though the research results aren't clear-cut, they show that citrus might help fend off several types of cancer:

Apples and Other 'White' Fruit

At least one meta-analysis -- a study that looks at lots of previous research on a subject -- linked apples with a reduced risk for cancer. The link seems strongest for lung cancer. But apples may also help protect against:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Other cancers of the digestive tract

Another study found that eating white vegetables and fruits, like apples, pears, mushrooms, and onions, may help protect against colorectal cancer. (Apples and pears are considered white because of their flesh.)

The possible benefit from apples probably comes from two substances they contain: polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate, and quercetin, a plant pigment. Both may help fight cancer cells.

Green Fruits

Green fruits may help protect against colorectal cancer, according to the same study that looked at white fruits and veggies. Green fruits include:

  • Kiwifruit
  • Honeydew melon
  • Green grapes

Other research also suggests kiwifruit may help prevent cancer. That's partly because of the fruit’s antioxidants, and partly because kiwifruit promotes a healthy gut.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit like prunes and raisins can be a healthy choice. Research shows that regularly eating dried fruit may help ward off some types of cancer. It might also help keep cancer from getting worse.

Eating three to five servings of dried fruits a week may help prevent:

Other Fruits That May Fight Cancer

Researchers are studying a range of plant chemicals that may play a role in cancer prevention, including:

  • Bromelain, an enzyme in pineapples
  • Carotenoids, plant pigments often found in orange fruits
  • Antioxidants in pomegranates

The research is in its early stages, so we really don't know yet if these plant chemicals have cancer benefits. But at the least, these fruits are high in fiber. Fiber can help reduce your risk of certain cancers and help you maintain a healthy weight.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "36 foods that may help lower your cancer risk."

University of California, San Francisco: "Diet for Cancer Treatment Side Effects."

International Journal of Cancer: "Citrus consumption and cancer incidence: the Ohsaki cohort study."

Public Health Nutrition: "Apple intake and cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies."

World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Colors of vegetables and fruits and the risks of colorectal cancer."

Nutrition and Cancer: "Kiwifruit and Cancer: An Overview of Biological Evidence."

Advances in Nutrition: "Dried Fruit Intake and Cancer: A Systematic Review of Observational Studies."

Journal of Medical Signals and Sensors: "Bromelain Inhibitory Effect on Colony Formation: An In vitro Study on Human AGS, PC3, and MCF7 Cancer Cells."

Molecules: "Cancer chemoprevention by carotenoids," "Pomegranate for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer: An Update."

American Institute for Cancer Research: "Ask The Dietitian: Get Your Facts Right on Fiber and Whole Grains." 

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