Ask the Nutritionist
Q: My boyfriend was diagnosed a few years ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (early stages) and was told he had nothing to worry about at the present time. Can you suggest what he should or shouldn't have in his diet to help him fight his CLL?
Noreen, Dedham, Massachusetts
A: We recommend that cancer survivors follow the same diet guidelines as those for cancer prevention: A predominately plant-based diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating 5-10, 1/2 cup servings of fruits and vegetables each day may be particularly important in fighting CLL because these foods contain phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants which are essentially the plants' own immune system. When consumed, they may have powerful health benefits for humans, as well. For example, laboratory studies have shown that resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in the skin of red and purple grapes, may block the development and progression of leukemia cells. While this effect has not been proven in humans, it certainly won't hurt to eat a serving of grapes most days. Phytonutrients are concentrated in the color of plants, so aim to include a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables (green, yellow, orange, blue, red, etc.) in your diet for the greatest potential health benefit.
Additional sources of phytonutrients include whole grains, flax seeds, green tea, and a number of spices, including garlic, ginger, turmeric, and parsley. In fact, a compound in garlic known as diallyl disulfide has been shown to kill leukemia cells in laboratory studies. Again, the effect has not been proven in humans, but adding a few extra teaspoons of minced garlic to your favorite pasta recipe will boost flavor and may help fight CLL.
For more information about phytonutrients and the role they play in fighting cancer, read this article from InteliHealth by Dana Farber nutritionist Anne Chiavacci, MS, MA, RD, LDN.
For more information about a healthy diet for cancer survivorship check out the Optimal Diet Plan and for some tasty, healthy recipe ideas, browse our Recipe Archive.