The Link Between What We Eat and Cancer


Jaime Rose Chambers

The link between what we eat and cancer is a bit of a mystery but researchers are learning more and more every day. One particular food doesn’t necessarily cause cancer, nor does another food prevent cancer. Rather it’s the balance of these foods and overall eating pattern over our lifetimes that will determine the path of cancer. This means eating less of the foods that are known to increase the risk of cancer and more of those that may help to prevent cancer. 

The power of diet in relation to cancer is that it is one of the few factors we can actually control. The others are smoking, our weight, alcohol intake, sun exposure and physical activity levels. In fact it’s believed that more than 70 percent of someone’s risk of getting cancer is from factors within their control. The remaining factors such as genetics and our environment actually play a much smaller role than was once believed. 

Some cancers have a stronger relationship with what we eat, such as lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and cancers of the digestive system such as bowel cancer. 

These are the current dietary recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer: 

1. Eat more variety of foods from the five food groups 

  • These foods have been known for a long time to help decrease your risk of cancer, particularly those of the digestive system (mouth, stomach, bowel) 

  • They include fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and high fibre cereals (such as rolled oats, brown rice), lean meat and poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu, legumes and lentils and reduced fat dairy products. 

2. Eat more healthy fats 

  • The Mediterranean diet or eating pattern has been linked with a lower incidence of cancer. It’s believed that one of the reasons is for its higher intake of healthy fats from sources such as oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and anchovies), extra virgin olive oil, avocado nuts and seeds. 

3. Maintain or achieve a healthy weight 

  • There is a link between high energy and high fat diets which can lead to obesity, and this is believed to increase the risk of some cancers. 

4. Avoid ultra-processed foods 

  • These foods contain little to no nutrition and are often full of refined sugars and processed fats like margarines or seed oils 

  • These are foods that are far from their natural state such as processed breakfast cereals, packaged snack foods, biscuits and cakes. 

5. Avoid processed meat 

  • They have been shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer 

  • They include hot dogs, ham, bacon, some sausages and burgers. 

6. Reduce your intake of red meat 

  • There is evidence too much red meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer as well 

  • Red meat includes beef, veal, lamb, pork and kangaroo 

  • Aim for no more than 700g raw (or 500g cooked) red meat over a week 

  • Avoid over-cooking and charring the meat as this produces chemicals that can increase the cancer risk. 


Links to references: 

Jaime Rose Chambers

Please note: Jaime's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.


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