Eating well for health

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A large part of staying healthy is making sure you eat well. Learn about the importance of eating well for health and the foundations of a nutritious diet.

Key points

  • Eating a healthy diet has many benefits including giving you strength and energy to tolerate treatments, supporting normal growth and development and helping your body to recover and fight infections.
  • A nutritious diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein-rich food and choosing whole grain foods.
  • Eating more foods that are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and lower in fat, sugar and salt, as well as fewer processed foods, are also things that you can do to keep yourself healthy.

Besides being active, eating well is an important part of staying healthy. There are many benefits to eating healthy including the following.

  • Gives you the energy and strength you need to tolerate your treatment and cope with any side effects you may experience
  • Helps you feel as well as possible during treatment and give you enough energy to do more of the activities you enjoy
  • Supports normal growth and development, especially during the usual growth spurts from ages 12 to 18
  • Helps your body heal, fight infections, and regain strength as you recover
  • Keeps your heart and other organs as healthy as possible
  • Improves your mood
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Helps you maintain strong bones
  • Helps you learn better at school or perform better at work
  • Prevents some late effects of cancer and help lower your risk of developing cancer again in the future
  • Prevents future health problems such as heart disease or diabetes

What is a nutritious diet?

According to Canada’s Food Guide, the following are recommended for a healthy diet:

  • A variety of healthy foods each day:
    • Have plenty of vegetables and fruits
    • Eat protein-rich foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.
    • Choose whole grain foods
  • Make water your drink of choice
  • Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat
  • Limit processed foods
  • Use food labels to better understand what you are eating
  • Be aware of how food is advertised and how that can influence your choices
  • Form healthy eating habits. To do this you can try the following:
    • Be mindful of your eating habits
    • Cook more often
    • Take time to eat and enjoy your food
    • Eat meals with others

When you have cancer, you need a nutrient-balanced diet so that your body can make new cells or fix cells that have been damaged by cancer or treatment.

Have plenty of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients. Eat them raw, cooked, on their own or mixed with other foods. It doesn’t matter how you eat them, just eat them!

When choosing fruits and veggies, go for as many different colours as you can. Make sure you include dark green leafy veggies such as spinach or kale, as well as bright orange veggies such as sweet potatoes or squash. Fruits and veggies should cover half your plate for each meal. They also make a great snack.

Eat protein-rich foods

Examples of protein rich foods include meats, poultry, fish, eggs, yogurt, legumes (beans or peas), tofu, soy, nuts and seeds. When recovering from surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, your body requires more protein than usual to heal, maintain a healthy immune system, and build and maintain muscle tissue. It is important that you try to eat enough protein to meet your body’s needs.

Choose whole grain foods

Whole grain foods are a source of healthy carbohydrates. Whole grains are a main source of carbohydrates (sometimes called carbs), which give the cells in your body energy. You can find a variety of whole grain foods to enjoy including whole grain breads, pasta, rice and cereal.


A healthy diet must contain some fats. Our body needs a certain level of fat to store energy and function properly. Foods with lots of fat in them contain lots of energy. Just like carbohydrates, some sources of fat are healthier than others.

Healthy fats are found in plant-based oils such as olive or canola oils, nuts, higher-fat foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds, some animal products such as fish, lean meats or full-fat milk or yogurt.

Try to eat fewer foods that contain saturated fats and oils, such as deep-fried foods, some desserts and baked goods, higher fat or processed meats, and butter.

Vitamin D and calcium

These two nutrients are important for bone health. If you took steroids during your treatment, you might be at a higher risk for having weak bones. Foods high in calcium and vitamin D include milk, cheese and yogurt or frozen yogurt, fortified soy, rice and almond milks, and fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel. If you don’t love these foods or aren’t sure if you’re eating enough, speak to your dietitian. They can work with you to come up with a healthy dietary plan that you enjoy and will follow.

Should I use nutritional supplements?

Some kinds of cancer treatment can cause your body to lose some vitamins and minerals. Your doctor, nurse practitioner, or dietitian may recommend you take a supplement. This is a kind of pill that helps you get the vitamins and minerals you need if you’re having trouble getting them from your diet.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you are using, since some can interfere with radiation and chemotherapy.

Useful resources

Canada’s Food Guide recommends foods we should eat, and where, when, why and how you eat.

How do I know if a food is healthy or not?

Read the label!


All packaged food has a nutrition label that tells you how many calories and how much protein, sodium (salt), sugar, calories, fat, fibre, vitamins, and minerals are in one serving of the food. Pay attention to the serving size – it might be different from what you are used to!

Nutrition labels can tell you how much of a certain nutrient (like salt) is in a food and will give you an idea of how much of your daily requirement the food contains. Nutrition labels are really helpful when you’re trying to eat well, so ask your dietitian to help you learn to read them properly!

You can also check out Health Canada’s interactive nutrition label.

Tip: Lots of foods such as fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats (meats without a lot of fat like chicken breast), fish, and nuts don’t have a label. But these are all healthy foods that you should be eating every day!

Eating well for health

Eat more foods that are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals (such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and low in fat, sugar and salt. This can help you stay at a healthy weight and lower the risk of health problems.

Minimize or eat fewer packaged and processed foods, as they often contain unhealthy ingredients. If you’re not sure what an ingredient on your food label is, ask your dietitian or another member of your health-care team, or try looking it up online.

Eat a healthy breakfast every day. Include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein such as eggs or nuts and dairy such as milk or yogurt. This gives you energy for the day and stops you turning to high-energy "junk" foods later on. Try our smoothie recipe listed below.

It’s easier to eat healthily if your whole family does too.

Talk to your parent or caregiver. Help plan meals for the week or make the grocery list. If you have any questions about how to make your diet healthier, speak to the dietitian on your health-care team. They can give you tips on how to enjoy food while staying healthy!

Healthy and delicious smoothie recipe

This smoothie works great as a breakfast, lunch, or after-school snack. You can pack it in a travel mug or a jar with a tight-fitting lid for a meal-to-go!

Add the following ingredients to a food processor or blender:

  • ½ cup of your favourite juice – make sure it’s pure fruit juice (not concentrate) without added sugar!
  • ½ cup of milk (soy, rice or almond milk works too)
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 1 cup of your favourite fruit – try berries, mango or melon
  • 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt (or silken tofu)
  • A drop of honey or maple syrup if the fruit is sour

Blend it all together and enjoy! Get creative with the ingredients – try different combinations of fruits and juices.

Tip: For a delicious way to add more fibre, try adding a teaspoon of ground flax seed to your smoothie!

Last updated: September 3rd 2019