Can Diet Help With Mantle Cell Lymphoma?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on April 25, 2023
3 min read

Food is medicine. Although there's no evidence that any single diet treats or cures mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), a well-balanced meal plan can help you feel better. Eating healthy foods will keep up your strength during treatment, and help your body heal afterward.

The diet for mantle cell lymphoma is the same as any healthy eating plan. It includes:

  • Protein from fish, poultry such as chicken or turkey, lean red meat, eggs, beans, and nuts to promote healing and keep your muscles strong
  • Carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, oatmeal, and brown rice to give you energy
  • Healthy fats from nuts, avocado, and oily fish
  • Fruits and vegetables to strengthen your immune system -- your body's defense against germs

Studies show that people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who eat a lot of green vegetables and citrus fruits, such as oranges or lemons, live longer than those who don't eat these foods. Researchers think the natural chemicals in vegetables might slow tumor growth and strengthen the immune system against the cancer.

Try to eat five to 10 servings each day of fruits and vegetables like these:

  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Oranges
  • Melon


Some cancer drugs cause side effects like diarrhea and vomiting, which can dehydrate you. Drink water or other clear liquids, such as broth, to replenish fluids. You might also try sports drinks, which add electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Ask your doctor how much you should drink each day.

Limit or avoid alcohol. It can dehydrate you and weaken your immune system. The caffeine in sodas and coffee also dry you out.

The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a high-fat, low-carb way of eating. Because you eat very few carbohydrates, your body has to burn stored fat instead of glucose (sugar) for fuel.

Cancer cells use more sugar than healthy cells. The hope is that the keto diet might "starve" cancer cells by taking away the sugar they need to survive.

A few studies are looking at the keto diet for lymphoma. So far, there's no proof that it works. If you want to try this or any other diet, check with your doctor and a dietitian first. You want to make sure that the plan you choose meets your nutritional needs and is safe for you.

Mantle cell lymphoma can cause a drop in the white blood cells that help your body fight infections. When your white blood cells are low -- called neutropenia -- it's easier for germs to make you sick.

Avoid foods like these that could contain live bacteria:

  • Yogurt with live cultures
  • Soft cheeses, such as blue cheese
  • Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products
  • Uncooked deli meats

Use a thermometer to make sure foods like eggs, meat, and seafood are fully cooked before you eat them. Wash your hands after you prepare raw meat and vegetables. Use different utensils to prepare raw and cooked foods.

Other foods to avoid are sweets and junk foods. They're high in fat and calories but low in nutrition. If you crave something sweet, eat a piece of fruit.

It's important to keep up your weight when you have cancer. Dropping pounds can rob you of the strength you need to get through treatment.

It can be harder to eat when you have cancer. Chemotherapy drugs cause side effects like nausea, appetite loss, and changes in taste and smell that make foods taste unappealing. A dietitian can help you find a meal plan that fits your new nutritional needs and tastes.

To help you get enough nutrition during treatment, eat five or six smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. Small portions may be easier for you to get down than large meals.

If your mouth is too sore for you to eat solid foods, drink your calories in the form of milkshakes, soups, or nutritional drinks.

Eat foods that are dense in calories and nutrients, such as:

  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Granola bars
  • Avocado
  • Milkshakes
  • Eggs
  • Butter and oil

You can also add sauces and gravies to dishes to get more calories.

Food is always the best source of nutrients, but vitamin and mineral supplements may be helpful when you can't get enough nutrients from diet alone.

Don't take a supplement without first asking the doctor who treats your cancer. Some of these products can cause side effects in large doses, or interact with medicines you take to treat lymphoma.