Food and nutrition
A healthy, balanced diet reduces your risk of developing cancer
In general, eating a healthy, balanced diet reduces your risk of developing cancer, while a poor diet increases your cancer risk. Cancers associated with diet are most commonly found in the digestive tract, including the oesophagus, stomach and bowel.
Improving your diet can be as simple as trying to eat more:
- vegetables, fruit and legumes
- cereals (preferably wholegrain) - bread, rice, pasta and noodles contain fibre, and a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
There is evidence to suggest that diets high in red meat (particularly processed meats such as salami or ham) can increase the risk of developing cancer. Try to avoid eating too much processed meat. If you eat red meat try to eat small serves of lean meat and limit it to 3-4 times a week. Incorporate chicken and fish into other meals or try vegetarian alternatives.
Diet can also influence body weight, which in turn can affect your risk of developing cancer. It is important to balance the amount of energy (kilojoules or calories) you take in with the amount of energy you expend each day.
Eat for health
You can lower your risk of cancer by enjoying a healthy diet, being physically active every day and maintaining a healthy body weight. Studies show being overweight, physically inactive and not eating well increases your risk of developing cancer.
Healthy eating is a first step in reducing your cancer risk. Poor eating habits increase your risk of cancer at many sites in the body. Poor eating habits can also contribute to weight gain, and being overweight or obese increases your risk of cancer. The good news is that a healthy diet, combined with regular physical activity and a healthy body weight can reduce cancer risk.
While there is no one food that can protect against cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your overall risk. A healthy diet may protect against cancers including cancer of the bowel, liver, oesophagus (food pipe), lung and stomach.
Eat more vegetables and fruit
Eat at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.
Tips to eat more fruit and vegetables
- Double your serving of vegetables.
- Try a new fruit each week.
- Use frozen vegies for convenience.
- Include vegies with your lunch.
- Add extra vegies to all your recipes.
- Have fruit instead of sweets.
- Eat a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, fruit and legumes (e.g. dried beans, lentils).
- Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain.
- Eat red meat no more than three to four times a week. On the other days choose fish, poultry, dried or canned beans or lentils.
- Choose foods low in salt.
- Don't eat too much fat, especially saturated fat. Be aware of hidden fats in snack foods, cakes and takeaway foods.
- Choose low fat yoghurt, cheese and milk.
What about taking vitamin and mineral supplements?
If you enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods you will get the nutrients you need, reduce your cancer risk and be less likely to be overweight or obese. For most healthy people, vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary when they eat well.
Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
Cancer patients and diets
If you have cancer, you need to try to continue to eat well in order to help your body fight the disease. This is often difficult because the cancer and the treatment can make you feel very unwell. However, there are ways to manage and control these effects.
If you or someone you know has cancer, it may be useful to speak to a dietitian, nurse or doctor. They can offer advice on what to eat, how to deal with loss of appetite and any other eating problems you might experience.
Learn more about reducing your cancer risk with diet and exercise