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The cancer survivors did not follow the guidelines, especially with regard to the recommendations for eating a diet rich in whole grains and green vegetables. This is reflected in their total Healthy Eating Index score of 47.2 out of 100, compared with a score of 48.3 in adults with no history of cancer. Survivors consumed more empty calories, meaning they ate less fiber, more solid fats, and more refined carbohydrates than the noncancer volunteers.2

Cancer survivors had high dietary intakes of saturated fat (112% of the recommended intake) and sodium (133%), but low intakes of vitamin D (31%), vitamin E (47%), potassium (55%), and calcium (73%).2

The quality of the diets among those survivors who continued to smoke was worse than that of nonsmokers or former smokers, and the quality of diets of survivors with lower education (high school or lower) was significantly worse than diets of those with higher education.2

Among the survivors of the four major types of cancer evaluated, breast cancer survivors maintained the best diets, and lung cancer survivors’ diets were the worst. The researchers also found that age was a factor. The older the survivor, the better the diet.2


Zhang and her group feel that eating a proper diet is a modifiable behavior that can prevent or delay the onset of chronic health conditions. A poor diet might exacerbate comorbidities for cancer survivors, but a healthy diet may be protective.

The researchers suggest that knowing the nutritional patterns of cancer survivors is critical for their long-term health and survival. “This [study] may suggest that reducing the consumption of empty calories is an important target for dietary interventions in cancer survivors,” the authors noted.2


1. About the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Accessed November 4, 2015.

2. Zhang FF, Liu S, John EM, Must A, Demark-Wahnefried W. Diet quality of cancer survivors and noncancer individuals: results from a national survey [published online ahead of print October 13, 2015]. CANCER. doi:10.1002/cncr.29488.

3. US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services.