Should people with cancer go vegan?

18 January 2021 | Living with cancer

Adele HugOncology dietitian Adele Hug talks about vegan diets during cancer and how to make sure people get the nutrients they need.

What does ‘vegan’ mean?

The Vegan Society describe veganism as:

“a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose ... in dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

Is a vegan diet safe during cancer treatment?

Of course! But if you're following a vegan diet because you think you “must”, rest assured that while we know eating more plant-based foods is good for our health, there is no evidence that a strict vegan diet provides any advantages. There is some evidence that eating foods containing soy and fibre may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Some people may struggle with certain aspects of a vegan diet after some cancer treatments and/or surgery, and should speak to their oncology dietitian.

Coping and eating well during treatment

In my experience, the stress around food can cause far more damage to health and relationships than any food could. It’s much easier to follow a vegan diet if you are feeling well during your treatment so make sure you get the support you need during treatment.

If you're struggling with symptoms and side-effects that are affecting how you eat, don’t be afraid to buy vegan convenience foods and ready meals to get you through. The most important thing is to get enough energy and protein to meet your needs during treatment.

Vegan sources of protein

During treatment, protein is needed at each meal so try different types to ensure you get the whole range of essential amino acids.

Vegan protein sources include lentils, soya products, quinoa, tofu, beans, nut butters, nuts and seeds. You could try adding a vegan protein powder (like hemp or pea) to soups, stews, smoothies, and mashed potatoes/vegetables.

Adding extra energy

Oils (such as olive and walnut oils), avocados, nut butters, coconut milk and coconut cream are good vegan energy-dense foods. Try adding oils to soups and stews, and nut butters to porridge or smoothies.

And don’t be afraid of carbohydrates – bread, rice and pasta are all great sources of energy and nutrients!

Top tips for a healthy vegan diet during cancer

There are important nutrients to consider if you follow a vegan diet. These include:

  • vitamin B12
  • protein
  • omega-3s
  • calcium
  • iron
  • vitamin D
  • iodine
  • zinc

For many nutrients, you may need to consider a vitamin and mineral supplement that is suitable for vegans. Double check with your oncologist or pharmacist that it is suitable for the treatment you're having (high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended and may have an impact on your treatment).

Many vegan foods are fortified with important nutrients, so check the food label. Bear in mind that “organic” foods often aren’t fortified.

Want to know more about plant-based diets?

You can find more information at:

Still want more?

> WCRF's advice and support for people living with cancer

> Vegan recipes and recipes for cancer patients

Are you a health professional? Watch our FREE webinar on vegan diets for cancer patients.

Adele Hug | 18 January 2021