The best diet for when you’re living with prostate cancer follows the same guidelines as any for maintaining good health. The diet should be low in fat and calories; rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and focused on “real” foods, rather than processed ones, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Of course, there are specific foods to avoid when talking about prostate cancer. According to a study published in 2020 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, which followed men with nonmetastatic prostate cancer, eating red meat and processed foods may be associated with a higher risk of developing advanced prostate cancer. And, the American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that eating a healthy diet is particularly important for people undergoing cancer treatment, because it can help the body function at its best and be better equipped to fight off infections. It can also help with maintaining strength and energy and coping with treatment side effects.
Here are some tips on how to plan healthy meals if you have prostate cancer.
Key Elements of an Ideal Diet for People With Prostate Cancer
The truth is, there’s no specific diet that will help you prevent or treat prostate cancer, but these general guidelines from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) can help. Good nutrition may lower your risk of developing cancer, as well as reduce the risk of the disease progressing after a diagnosis.
More research still needs to be done to determine whether diet can meaningfully affect prostate cancer risk and prognosis. Steven Canfield, MD, chair of urology at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, says that while there have been a lot of studies looking at specific diets for prostate cancer, they haven’t been very revealing. “Unfortunately, none of them have really panned out to show any significant prevention,” says Dr. Canfield.
But, he adds an exception. “It does seem to be that what’s good for your heart is good for your prostate.”
The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center developed dietary guidelines for prostate cancer that recommend a wide variety of vegetables and whole grains, healthy sources of protein (such as beans, fish, and skinless poultry), and healthy fats (from foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados).
If these diet recommendations sound a lot like a Mediterranean diet, your instincts are right. There’s evidence that this food plan helps lower the risk of death from prostate cancer.
Most of these guidelines are for men starting out with a diagnosis of localized stage 1 or 2 prostate cancer, says June M. Chan, doctor of science in epidemiology and a professor in the department of urology at UCSF.
Eat fruits and greens. The UCSF guidelines suggest eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, including lots of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Add plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, such as berries, cherries, plums, prunes, and red grapes.
Opt for fish and plants over meat. All people with cancer, including those with prostate cancer, will benefit from a plant-based diet — getting protein primarily from beans, flaxseed, low-fat dairy products, and nuts.
In particular, you should eat less red meat and try to reduce your saturated fat intake overall. Research shows that eating a high-fat diet is linked to prostate cancer progression. Steer clear of whole milk and other high-fat dairy products, such as butter and cheese.
If fish isn’t already a staple in your diet, consider this: Eating fish is associated with a reduced risk of death from prostate cancer, according to a review published in August 2023 in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Use healthier oils and lighter cooking methods. Cook meals using canola oil or olive oil in place of saturated fats, such as butter or shortening. How you cook matters, too: Use low-fat cooking methods, such as broiling or baking, rather than frying.
Skip grilling. Cooking meat at high temperatures, as with grilling, produces carcinogenic chemicals, according to the ACS. If you do prepare meat on the grill, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests marinating and partially precooking the meat on the stove to minimize the char buildup (blackened areas) from the grill.
How to Adjust to New Dietary Needs With Prostate Cancer
Your prostate cancer treatment may affect your appetite and your ability to get the nutrition you need. It may also wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal function. Here are some tips that may help.
Curb weight loss. If you’re losing your appetite and losing weight, think again about what you’re cooking and how you’re preparing food. Experiment with seasoning foods differently so they taste better, or add sauces and herbs to mask certain flavors. Cook with higher-calorie foods (within the healthy guidelines above) that don’t require eating large portions to meet caloric needs.
Manage fiber intake for diarrhea relief. Some men experience loose stools, bleeding from the rectum, and loss of control over bowel movements after getting external beam radiation treatments for prostate cancer. If this happens to you, choose fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly to reduce your risk of becoming constipated.
Should You Take Dietary Supplements for Prostate Cancer? Maybe Not
“One of the other developments in the last 5 to 10 years,” says Dr. Chan, “has been broader recognition that single supplements seem unlikely to offer a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer development.”
She cites the large national Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial from 2008 and 2011, which “provided no evidence that selenium or vitamin E supplements offer protection against the development of prostate cancer.” And furthermore, a study of 4,459 men initially diagnosed with nonmetastatic prostate cancer concluded that those who started taking selenium supplements after being diagnosed had a greater risk of death from prostate cancer.
The bottom line: Healthy, balanced, and heart-healthy meals consisting of whole foods are the way to go for prostate cancer.
Additional reporting by Andrea Peirce.