What to Know About the Budwig Diet

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 23, 2023
4 min read

Johanna Budwig was a German biochemist who created the Budwig protocol in the 1950s. The core of the diet is flaxseed oil that is mixed with cottage cheese and milk. She created it with the belief that the combination of nutrients helps stop cancer cells from growing.

No research has shown that the Budwig can prevent or treat cancer, however. It is also risky as it is restrictive. It can put you at risk for having vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Flaxseed oil and cancer. Flaxseed oil is also called linseed oil, and it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce levels of some chemicals in your body that are associated with cancer. They may have a positive impact on cancer cells in your body.‌

Dr. Budwig believed that milk and cottage cheese help your body absorb the omega-3 more efficiently. Flaxseed is also rich in nutrients called lignans and phytoestrogens. Research also shows that these may have anti-cancer and hormonal benefits.

Still, there is not enough research or evidence to provide solid conclusions about these beliefs.

How the Budwig diet works. The benefit of better absorption is that your body takes in more of the nutrient instead of it passing through your body as waste. Dr. Budwig believed that high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids slow and even stop cancer growth.

Flaxseed oil comes from the flax plant that grows around the world. Applying pressure to the seeds releases flaxseed oil that is often used for cooking or as a health supplement. Eating the seeds whole offers fiber, vitamins, and minerals.‌

The Budwig diet also includes fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on getting plenty of fiber.

It is restrictive, and with the Budwig diet you are not supposed to eat: 

  • Sugar
  • Oils that are refined or hydrogenated
  • Most dairy products aside from cottage cheese and milk
  • Shellfish
  • Pork
  • Cold meats like sliced deli meat
  • Refined grains and cereals‌
  • Coffee and tea‌

In addition to a strict diet, Dr. Budwig encouraged her patients to spend at least 20 minutes a day in the sun and take walks in nature. She believed that the sun aids your body by providing vitamins and boosting your body’s ability to manage your body’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and pH levels. She did make some exceptions to her diet that allowed for coffee intake or water enemas to address constipation.‌

Creating the flaxseed mixture. In place of flaxseed oil, with the protocol, you can also use ground or whole flaxseeds mixed with cottage cheese and low-fat milk. If the taste or texture bothers you, add fruit, nuts, or honey to a bowl. You are supposed to eat the combination within 20 minutes of mixing it.

Following the Budwig diet protocol leaves you at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, so talk to your doctor before trying it.

There is no proof that it works, so it is essential your talk with your doctor about approved cancer treatments. There is zero evidence this diet will give the results you desire and cure cancer.‌

Side effects of the Budwig diet include:

  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Pain in your abdomen‌‌

It’s also possible that you are allergic to flaxseeds, have lactose intolerance, or a dairy allergy. If you don’t stay hydrated, whole flaxseeds may lead to constipation or a blockage.‌

Flaxseeds are known to interact with some medications. They may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb active ingredients in your medicines. Talk to your doctor about finding a safe amount of flaxseeds to eat each day. ‌

Health conditions that are easily irritated by the Budwig diet include: 

  • Inflammatory bowel disease and other bowel conditions
  • Diabetes‌
  • Bleeding disorders‌

Cancer and cancer treatments often lead to weight loss. Staying healthy with cancer often requires a higher calorie intake, and those needs may not be met with the Budwig diet.

Sun exposure. Because Dr. Budwig encouraged time outdoors in the sun, you’re also at an increased risk for sunburn and skin cancer. Wear sunscreen and protective wear to protect your skin and prevent further health problems.

Research unrelated to the Budwig diet shows that fruits and vegetables may have a positive impact on some types of cancer. Because the Budwig diet includes fruits and vegetables, it can be good for your overall health.

If you don’t want to follow the diet strictly, but do want to incorporate foods from the Budwig diet, consider adding:

  • Fruits like apples, bananas, berries, kiwi, mango, oranges, peaches, and plums
  • Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, kale, spinach, and tomatoes
  • Legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas
  • Fruit juice like apple, grape, grapefruit, and pineapple juice
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pistachios, and walnuts
  • Dairy products like cottage cheese, low-fat cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and yogurt
  • Healthy oils like flaxseed and olive oil
  • Drinks like herbal or green tea and water