Around one quarter of all cancer cases can be prevented through eating a healthy diet and being physically active.
Choose a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, low fat dairy and small amounts of lean meat. Along with limiting foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt, this reduces your risk of some cancers.
On this page you will find information on:
Cancer and diet
Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is one of the most important ways to protect against many types of cancer. Collectively, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, and eating unhealthily are second only to tobacco as preventable risk factors for cancer.
Healthy eating can help reduce your cancer risk and provide many health benefits:
- Help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Boost your immune system.
- Improve your concentration levels and mental health.
- Gain more energy.
- Help your body grow and repair.
- Reduce your risk of other diseases.
In contrast, unhealthy eating, excess alcohol consumption and being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer. To find out more, see the National Cancer Prevention Policy.
Eating for health
Cancer Council Queensland recommends following the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The Guidelines have been developed by a team of nutrition and medical experts, based on the best available scientific evidence.
The Guidelines recommend that Australians enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day, including:
- Plenty of vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes and beans.
- A variety of fruit.
- Grain foods that are mostly wholegrain and high fibre, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley.
- Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans.
- Reduced fat milk, yoghurt, cheese and their alternatives.
In addition Cancer Council Queensland suggests the following to reduce your cancer risk:
- Limiting energy dense foods, for example, take away, ‘junk’ food, fatty or sugary snacks.
- Avoiding sugary drinks.
- Eating a diet made up mostly of foods of plant origin, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, grains and legumes.
- Limiting red meat to less than 455g (cooked weight) a week.
- Avoiding processed meats, such as salami, bacon, sausages and ham.
- Limiting salt and foods containing large amounts of salt, including salt-preserved foods and some processed foods.
- Trying to meet nutritional needs through diet alone (without supplements).
The Australian Dietary Guidelines also encourage, support and promote breastfeeding for the health and wellbeing of both mother and child. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed infants exclusively for up to six months if possible, and continue with complementary breastfeeding thereafter. Breastfeeding can help to prevent overweight and obesity in children, a risk factor for some cancers. Breastfeeding can also lower breast cancer risk in mothers.
Drinking for health
Healthy drinking can also assist in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing cancer risk.
As part of a healthy diet, Cancer Council Queensland recommends the consumption of water every day, and limiting the following:
Sugar sweetened beverages
Drinks containing high levels of sugar (e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and cordial) increases your risk of being overweight and obese, which then increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Healthier alternatives include water, soda water, unflavoured low-fat milk, tea and coffee. Learn more about Rethinking Sugary Drinks.
Alcohol is classed as a type 1 carcinogen – a known substance that causes cancer. Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of an alcohol-related cancer. Cancer Council Queensland recommends, to reduce the risk of cancer, people limit their consumption of alcohol. For those who choose to drink alcohol, Cancer Council recommends drinking within the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for alcohol consumption of no more than two standard drinks a day. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast feeding not drinking is the safest option.
Healthy eating and drinking after cancer
Cancer survivors may benefit from maintaining or adopting a healthier lifestyle after their cancer treatment.
There is evidence to show that weight management, a healthy diet and physical activity may:
- Improve the quality of life of cancer survivors
- Reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
- Extend life and increase cancer survival.
These lifestyle changes can also help prevent other health problems such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Find out more about living well after cancer.
Tips and hints
Choose foods low in salt, added sugars and saturated fat and increase fibre intake:
- Use hummus, avocado, pesto, ricotta or low-fat cream cheese on your sandwiches instead of butter.
- Use herbs and spices to flavour meals instead of salt and sauces.
- Add legumes, lentils or grated vegetables into bolognese, casseroles, curries or stews to add flavour, fibre and reduce your meat portion size. Using these ingredients will also save you money!
- Choose wholegrain or high fibre options instead of white bread, rice and pasta.
Make eating healthily part of your daily routine:
- If you are time poor, use pre-cut meat or vegetables to reduce preparation and cooking time.
- Seek out quick, healthy recipes in cookbooks, websites and blogs.
- Create a meal plan and grocery list to reduce impulse buying at the supermarket.
- Avoid the confectionary and processed food aisles at the supermarket.
- Make extras at dinner time to use as leftovers the next day.
- Provide healthy options at social events and watch portion sizes.
- Have fresh fruit, unsalted nuts or low-fat yogurt as healthy snacks throughout the day.
Learn new skills:
- Learn how to read food labels and compare products
- Learn new recipes by accessing free online websites, cookbooks and video tutorials
To find out what your workplace, school, early childhood centre or sporting club can do to help individuals eat healthily and drink less alcohol, register to Cancer Council Queensland’s free online healthy lifestyle program – QUEST. Visit quest.org.au
To learn more about what Cancer Councils across Australia are doing to support Australians to consume healthy and affordable foods view the National Cancer Prevention Policy.
For more information, contact your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our disclaimer.