A Healthy Diet for Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma

Certain foods can boost your well-being during treatment
A bowl of yogurt with peanuts on top

A healthy diet can help you feel your best — and may be an integral part of cancer prevention and treatment. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is cancer that affects lymphocytes, which are cells in your immune system. DLBCL is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cases are rising in the U.S.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

When you’re going through treatment for DLBCL — or even if you’re looking to reduce your risk of getting it — eating the right foods is key. Registered dietitian Amanda Bode, RDN, LD, explains how a healthy diet can enhance DLBCL treatment.

Can you treat DLBCL with diet?

Diet alone can’t treat diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, but it’s still essential. What you eat during treatment can greatly impact how you feel.

DLBCL treatment involves a combination of chemotherapy medications, monoclonal antibodies, steroids and sometimes radiation therapy. These treatments can cause side effects like decreased appetite, nausea, changes in taste and mouth sores. This is where the right diet comes in.

“DLBCL treatment can decrease your energy levels and make it difficult to eat,” says Bode. “The right combination of foods can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your energy up and avoid losing muscle mass.”

Foods to eat during DLBCL treatment

An ideal DLBCL diet is different for each person because it depends on your preferences and the side effects you’re experiencing. If you’re trying to avoid weight loss during treatment, focus on nutritious, calorie-dense foods, such as:

  • Eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds and nut butters.
  • Small amounts of full-fat dairy products like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and whole milk.
  • Whole grains like whole-wheat bread and pasta, oats, brown rice and quinoa.

And while fruits and vegetables aren’t high in calories, they do provide important nutritional benefits. “Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables you enjoy,” advises Bode. “They offer vitamins, minerals and fiber that can help keep your energy levels up. If your mouth is sore, make a smoothie or eat soft, cooked fruits and veggies.”

Focus on foods you favor

You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet during DLBCL treatment. Work with a nutritionist to plan a healthy diet that includes foods you enjoy.

“You can eat healthy with your preferences and tastes in mind,” assures Bode. “For example, you don’t have to eat almonds if you dislike them. But lymphoma treatment can change how foods taste, so don’t be afraid to try new foods. You might find that a food you disliked before tastes good now.”

Advertising Policy

Timing matters

When and how you eat can also help you feel your best during treatment. If nausea is severe, eat bland, dry foods like crackers, and don’t let your stomach get too empty. “Try to eat small, frequent snacks throughout the day, even if you don’t feel hungry,” says Bode. “Your appetite may not tell you to eat, so set an alarm for snacks if you need to.”

Stay well hydrated, too — but don’t chug. “Small sips of water or nonsugary drinks can help you avoid digestive upset and bloating,” Bode says. “But drinking too much at once can make nausea worse.”

Preventing DLBCL with a plant-based diet

Research has shown that eating the right foods can help prevent non-Hodgkin lymphomas like DLBCL. And the DLBCL prevention diet doesn’t involve a strict regimen or hard-to-find foods.

“A plant-based, Mediterranean diet has anti-inflammatory effects that can help you avoid all types of non-Hodgkin lymphomas,” says Bode. “A plant-based diet may also help prevent other cancers and conditions like heart disease.”

A plant-based Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, which should make up a large portion of your diet.
  • Legumes.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Whole grains.
  • Starchy vegetables like baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Fish, especially types high in omega-3 fats like salmon and sardines.
  • Eggs (up to one yolk per day, but no limit on egg whites).

Pack in protein for muscle mass

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma treatment can make it hard to stay active, and you might lose weight, too. Together, these factors lead to loss of muscle mass. “If you maintain your muscle mass, you’ll feel better during and after treatment,” says Bode. “The best way to keep building muscle is by eating enough quality protein foods, along with physical activity.”

The amount of protein you need is based on your body mass index (BMI), kidney health and other factors. “A registered dietitian can help you determine how much protein you need and which types of protein you should eat,” Bode says.

Foods to avoid with DLBCL

You should avoid some foods if you have DLBCL, or want to prevent it. “Studies have found a link between a diet high in certain foods and a higher risk of DLBCL,” notes Bode. “Try to limit or avoid these foods and reach for more nutritious options that suit your taste.”

Advertising Policy

Foods to skip or cut back include:

  • Animal fats, such as fatty meats, processed meats, lard and butter.
  • Sugar, including added sugars in desserts, sweetened drinks and processed foods.
  • White, refined grains like white bread, pasta and rice.

Nutritional supplements and DLBCL

Nutritional supplements like multivitamins or herbs may seem like an easy way to boost your health. But there’s no evidence that they help DLBCL and other lymphomas.

“In general, vitamins and herbal supplements aren’t necessary if you eat a variety of nutritious foods,” says Bode. “Plus, supplements can cause side effects and might interfere with your treatment.”

Vitamin D is an exception to this rule. “If you have low vitamin D levels, we recommend a vitamin D supplement,” says Bode. “Sufficient vitamin D levels are crucial for proper immune system function and can help you feel better during treatment. Vitamin D may also help prevent non-Hodgkin lymphomas like DLBCL, but ask your provider if you should take a supplement.”

Does a keto diet help with lymphoma?

The ketogenic diet is a restrictive plan that focuses on low-carb, high-fat and protein foods. And though this diet may benefit people who have a certain type of brain tumor, it isn’t helpful for DLBCL or any type of lymphoma.

“The keto diet is usually high in animal fats, which is the opposite of what we recommend for preventing DLBCL,” says Bode. “This diet could also cause unwanted weight loss, kidney problems or other health issues for people going through DLBCL treatment.”

Food as medicine

A healthy diet has the power to help you prevent diffuse large B-cell lymphoma or feel your best during cancer treatment. And it’s never too late to start making changes toward healthier foods. Talk with your healthcare provider about how you can boost your well-being with a nutritious diet.

Advertising Policy