In the 1950s, German biochemist Johanna Budwig developed a diet that she believed kept unhealthy cells from growing. Known as the Budwig diet, it was thought by some to be an alternative cancer treatment – or even a cure. It has recently seen an increase in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The approach restricts processed foods, sugar and certain meats, and encourages people on the diet to eat a combination of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese. These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce chemicals in your body associated with cancer growth.
Since these foods are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, Budwig believed eating more of them would help the body absorb omega-3 and keep cancer cells from growing.
“There’s no research to support the Budwig diet for cancer treatment or prevention,” says senior clinical dietitian Karla Crawford.
Here are four things she wants cancer patients and survivors to know about the Budwig diet.
The Budwig diet can negatively impact cancer treatment
While flax is recommended for some patients as part of a balanced diet, other patients may need to avoid increased flax intake.
“It is possible for flaxseed oil to thin blood, so consuming the amount recommended by the Budwig diet may interfere with blood clotting medications,” Crawford says.
The Budwig diet also recommends cooking vegetables so they’re still a bit crisp.
Crawford says this can cause problems for patients with bowel challenges. “If you’re already dealing with irritable bowels or colitis, eating slightly raw or firmer vegetables can make those conditions worse,” Crawford says.
Protein should come from a variety of sources
Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is important in maintaining good health, especially during cancer treatment. “You want to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients to keep you healthy during treatment,” Crawford says. A diet rich in protein can help you achieve your nutritional goals.
Some Budwig diet principles can be beneficial to your health
The Budwig dietl can be part of a balanced diet during cancer treatment, but it shouldn’t be your entire plan for getting the right nutrients, Crawford says. “Cottage cheese is a great source of protein,” Crawford says. “But so are other healthy proteins that the Budwig diet restricts, like eggs and lean meats.”
At its core, the Budwig diet encourages some of the same recommendations given by MD Anderson: eat whole foods that haven’t been processed, avoiding excess sugar and avoid alcohol. These habits increase your overall health.
Eating flaxseed has been linked to better treatment results for patients with breast cancer and prostate cancer. It’s also high in omega-3 fatty acid, which can help patients gain weight if they’re struggling to keep weight on during treatment.
Talk to your nutrition team before pursuing the Budwig diet
Before starting the Budwig diet or any other diet, Crawford recommends talking to your cancer care team to see what they recommend.
Most patients can achieve a balanced diet without sticking to a strict routine. “When you start cutting out foods that you can eat – especially during cancer treatment – that can be hard,” Crawford says. “When you already might not feel well or have appetite changes, you don’t want to be bound by a strict diet,” Crawford says.
She adds that a balanced diet doesn’t have to be extreme to be healthy. Limiting processed foods, aiming for plant-based meals and avoiding alcohol are all recommended for maintaining a balanced diet.
MD Anderson patients can ask for a referral to our clinical dietitians for help managing their specific dietary needs during cancer treatment.
“Our job is to give you research-based recommendations to help make your cancer experience as healthy as possible,” Crawford says.