The Benefits of a Whole Food Diet for Cancer Patients, in a Supplement-Focused World

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Dietary supplements can be confusing for the general public, but especially challenging for the cancer patient. With more than 29,000 different supplements on the market, it is also a confounding topic for healthcare providers.1 What is more puzzling, is that many people would prefer to take a dietary supplement instead of following a healthy diet. Contrary to popular belief, following a whole food diet doesn’t have to be a major lifestyle change or cause extra strain on your daily routine. While quickly swallowing a supplement every morning may seem easier, focusing on eating a healthy diet will provide more long term nutritional benefits.

Safety First

While many well-intentioned family and friends will tout the benefits of certain supplements or vitamins, cancer patients must be extra careful about the safety of dietary supplements. Some supplements, like high dose Vitamin C, can interact with medications, specifically chemotherapy agents. While Vitamin C is a critical nutrient for overall health and immune system support, taking too much of it can pose risk for interaction with cancer medications. To play it safe, it is always recommended to talk to your healthcare team before starting any new over-the-counter medication, including dietary supplements.

Full of Fiber

Dietary supplements provide specific vitamins and minerals, but do not include the full benefit of whole foods. Specifically, whole foods provide vitamins and minerals along with dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is not only good for our guts, but fiber from food sources has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.2,3 While fiber can be taken in supplement form to help with constipation or digestive issues, the best form of fiber is from food.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans are excellent sources of fiber. 

Complete Package

While taking vitamins and minerals in the form of supplements can provide one specific nutrient, it is easy to miss out on the other benefits of whole foods. For example, taking a Vitamin C supplement will only give you Vitamin C, but eating an orange will provide Vitamin C along with fiber, potassium and folate–not to mention, its delicious flavor. Eating the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily will provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy, and in the form that is most usable by your body. 

A Natural Choice

The benefits of a whole food diet as opposed to dietary supplements can be described in one word: natural. We would all agree that it makes more sense to eat something that comes from nature instead of something that is made in a lab – and what is more natural than fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds? Additionally, since the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements, there is no way of knowing if a supplement contains exactly what it says on the label. Choosing a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and beans provides your body with essential nutrients without any risk, guesswork or uncertainty.

Putting it into Practice

Many people mistakenly think they need to take supplements to obtain key nutrients necessary for overall health.  For example, if you eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, you will get all of the nutrients you need directly from the food you are eating. This Summery Black Bean, Jicama and Corn Salad recipe below is a great example of a way to get Vitamin C, fiber, protein and magnesium. Add a red bell pepper for a bigger nutritional boost!

Summery Black Bean, Jicama, and Corn Salad

Serves 6


2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

4 medium-size cobs, kernels shaved off the cob (about 4 cups)

1 large jicama, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil (optional)


Mix together the black beans, corn, jicama, and cilantro. Squirt with lime juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Excerpted from The Meals to Heal Cookbook by Susan Bratton and Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Undergoing cancer treatment can be stressful enough for the patient without having to worry about the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements. Those who rely on dietary supplements for key nutrients are missing out on the nutritional value from whole foods. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, gives a cancer patient all of the fiber, vitamins and minerals he or she needs to optimize nutrition during and after cancer treatment.


  1. 2017 Wellness Reports: Dietary Supplements. Berkeley Wellness. Accessed May 27, 2018.
  2. Whole Grains and Fiber. American Heart Association. Accessed May 27, 2018.
  3. Learn about Colorectal Cancer: Prevention. American Institute for Cancer Research.  Accessed May 27, 2018.

If you enjoyed this recipe there are plenty more in our Meals to Heal Cookbook–written to meet the unique needs of cancer patients and caregivers and offering 150 recipes to make eating less stressful, more convenient, and simply more enjoyable. Created by oncology-credentialed registered dietitians, these delicious, nourishing, easy-to-prepare dishes are full of the nutrients you need to maintain strength during treatment. Loaded with essential nutrition info and recipes coded by common symptoms and side effects (including fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, mouth sores, taste and smell aversion, and others).


Susan Bratton 

Founder and Chief Executive Officer 

Susan founded Savor Health in 2011 after a career on Wall Street where she represented and focused exclusively on early and growth stage healthcare services and insurance companies. During her tenure on Wall Street, Susan was a member of the healthcare groups at firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Robertson Stephens and Wasserstein, Perella & Co.

Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management. She is actively involved in a number of industry associations including Women Business Leaders in Healthcare. She also serves on the Advisory Board of HCap, the national leading venue for healthcare providers and capital to meet and is the Secretary for Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally on the role of proper nutrition in the cancer patient at industry association meetings as well as advocacy group summits and other oncology meetings.

Her work in oncology extends beyond Savor Health and speaking on the role of nutrition to her volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

Jessica A. lannotta

MS, RD, CSO, CDN, Chief Operating Officer

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master’s degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations, including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

To learn more about Savor Health please visit


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