Eating well is important for keeping well, especially when you have cancer.

How you eat and what you eat may change during and after cancer treatment, but eating well will help you:

  • maintain your body weight and muscle
  • cope better with side effects
  • fight infection, heal well and recover quicker
  • feel better and have more energy

If you were following a traditional or special diet before your diagnosis, talk with your cancer treatment team to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need.

If you are having problems with eating or maintaining your weight, ask to see a dietitian.

Healthy foods

We know about eating our greens. But it is important to eat your reds, yellows, purples and whites too. Eating a range of plant-based foods helps make sure you get everything your body needs to recover well.

You can feel your best by enjoying a mix of healthy food every day, such as:

  • plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • whole grains and grains naturally high in fibre
  • low and reduced-fat milk and dairy products
  • pulses (legumes, dried peas, lentils and beans)
  • nuts and seeds
  • fish, chicken, and red meat with the fat removed (350-500 grams)

Serving sizes of fruit and vegetables

New Zealand adults should eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day.

Some examples of a serve of fruit and vegetables are:

Vegetables (non-starchy)

  • ½ cup cooked vegetable (such as pūhā, watercress, silverbeet, kamokamo (squash), carrot, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, taro leaves)
  • ½ cup salad or mixed vegetables

Vegetables (starchy)

  • 1 medium potato (135 g) (such as kūmara, taewa, yam, taro, cassava or green banana)


  • 1 medium apple, pear, banana or orange
  • 2 small apricots or plums
  • ½ cup fresh fruit salad
  • ½ cup stewed fruit (fresh, frozen or canned)

Being safe with food

Cancer and some treatments (such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplants) can weaken the body’s immune system by affecting white blood cells that protect your body against infection.

Take care when preparing food, because your lowered immunity can increase the risk of your getting sick from the food you eat.

Eating well on a low budget

Here are some tips to help you stretch your dollar further:

  • plan your weekly meals and write a shopping list of only what you need 
  • use a self-scanner to keep track of the cost when you are buying
  • go to supermarkets known for value-for-money and look for specials
  • while the local dairy or service station can be easier to get to, be aware that you may be paying more
  • reduce the amount of convenience, processed or snack foods you buy as these cost more
  • local fruit and vegetable markets usually have cheaper produce
  • supermarket’s own brands are often cheaper than branded products
  • compare prices by looking at the price per 100g or litre of similar products
  • make more food at dinner to take for lunch the next day
  • add cooked dried peas and beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, split peas) to a dish to make it go further, especially curries, casseroles and stews, along with more vegetables
  • slow cookers are great as time and money savers, as you can use them to slow cook 
  • freeze leftovers and any surplus produce from your garden
Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have nurses and counsellors to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: April 7, 2021