Specialized Nutrition Series: Heart Disease and Cancer

It may sound surprising, but heart health is one of the biggest priorities you should have as you undergo cancer treatment. This is because cancer treatments can adversely affect your heart and lead to heart disease. 

Your nutrition plays a key role in protecting your heart, which is why we focus so much on your diet when you have both heart disease and cancer. We can also give you specialized care and nutrition plans here.

Couple cuts fresh vegetables for a refreshing salad.

Heart Disease and Cancer Complications

According to the Center for Women’s Health, anthracycline doxorubicin, a common chemotherapy treatment, can cause “irreversible damage to the heart.” While rare, damage to the heart occurs in enough of the population to warrant precautionary treatment. On the more severe side, radiation can cause heart attack and arrhythmias. 

Women facing breast cancer in particular must consider the possible cardiotoxic effects of their treatments. While some cancer treatment techniques are better at minimizing the effects of radiation, having a healthy heart before starting treatment significantly decreases the chances of heart disease. 

Fortunately, a healthy diet and lifestyle can greatly improve your heart health and lower the potential for damage.

Think Before You Eat

The first step to a healthier heart is to take a look at your lifestyle. Think actively about what you consume and why. If you have a hard time resisting junk food in your pantry, make it easier on yourself by not keeping stock in the house.

Create an environment where making healthy choices is more natural and encouraged. A community of supportive people will help you stay accountable for your health decisions. Shopping for groceries when you are not hungry will also help you buy what you need.

Quality Foods

As with diabetes and cancer, getting your cholesterol low before treatment will increase the effectiveness of the treatment and decrease the potential for side effects. Eat foods that are high in vitamins and low in carbs. 

Quality foods consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. With your protein, limit red meat consumption, which is high in sodium. Beans, chicken, and nuts are a good source of low sodium protein. 

Seek out foods high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are especially good for your heart as they protect against toxins that can come from radiation. You can find antioxidants in darker fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, and pomegranates. You can also find antioxidants in nuts and vegetables. This article provides a more detailed list of high-antioxidant foods.

To make eating healthy fun, you can try making your favorite restaurant meals at home. Homemade meals are more likely to be healthier than eating at a restaurant, because you can buy fresh ingredients and swap to more nutritious alternatives.

Portion Control

Even healthy foods can be bad for you if you eat them in excess. Monitor your portions to ensure you are getting that balanced diet. This is a particular area that you and your nutritionist can discuss so that you know exactly what your calorie intake should be and what nutrients you should get. Everybody is different, and you could be prone to certain vitamin deficiencies that your diet will make up for. 

One way to monitor your portions is by having your meals planned out. A meal plan limits the chance of you eating unhealthily and also keeps you on track with keeping your heart healthy. You can download our meal plan calendar below to use for your weekly planning!


Eating healthier can be quite the initial adjustment, but adjusting your nutrition will help you as you face heart disease and cancer. Improving your diet improves your quality of life. With a set nutrition plan you diligently follow, you can combat against adverse effects of cancer treatment and speed up your full recovery. 

If you would like to talk to a nutritionist, you can contact us here. You can read the first in this series here: Specialized Nutrition: Diabetes and Cancer.