Nutrition and cancer risk
Extensive research has been conducted to determine the link between diet and cancer. A number of areas have been studied, including fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods, red and processed meat, dairy products, calcium supplements, salt (sodium) and coffee. The evidence is not entirely conclusive but many links have been found to show that a healthy diet reduces cancer risk and is also beneficial for people who have had cancer.
A summary of the evidence linking nutrition and cancer risk is outlined below:
Non-starchy vegetables and fruit
Research has found a probable link between eating non-starchy vegetables and fruit and a reduced risk of aerodigestive cancers (includes mouth, larynx, throat, nasopharynx, oesophagus, lung, stomach and bowel cancers).
For more information visit the fruit and vegetables page.
To find out more about how non-starchy vegetables and fruit reduce your cancer risk see Cancer Council's position statement on fruit, vegetables and cancer prevention.
Eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables also reduces the risk of becoming overweight or obese. There is convincing evidence linking overweight and obesity to a number of different cancers, including breast cancer (in postmenopausal women), bowel cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Fibre and wholegrain foods
There is probable evidence that eating foods containing dietary fibre, particularly wholegrains, reduces the risk of bowel cancer. Foods that contain dietary fibre include fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, and legumes, nuts and seeds.
For more information visit the wholegrain and wholemeal foods page.
To find out more about how fibre and wholegrain cereals can reduce your cancer risk see Cancer Council's position statement on fibre, wholegrain cereals and cancer.
Meat and meat alternatives
There is convincing evidence that processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer, with probable evidence that red meat also increases the risk. Cantonese-style salted fish has been found to increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
For more information visit the meat and meat alternatives page.
To find out more about how red and processed meat can increase your cancer risk see Cancer Council's position statement on meat and cancer.
Dairy foods and calcium supplements
A probable link has been found between consuming dairy products and a reduced risk of bowel cancer. Dairy foods include milk, yoghurt and cheese. Research has also found a probable link between taking calcium supplements and a reduced risk of bowel cancer.
For more information visit the dairy foods page.
A probable link has been found between consuming high intakes of salt-preserved foods as traditionally prepared in East Asia (e.g. pickled vegetables and salted/dried fish) and a higher risk of stomach cancer. In countries where refrigeration is commonly used for storage of perishable foods rather than salting, stomach cancer is less common.
For more information visit the Salt (sodium) page.
To find out more about the link between salt (sodium) and cancer risk see the Cancer Council's position statement on Salt and cancer risk.
Research has found a probable link between coffee consumption and a lower risk of developing cancers of the liver and endometrium (lining of the womb). The mechanisms underlying this reduced risk of liver and endometrial cancer are not entirely clear at this point in time.
(Source: World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Third Expert Report. 2018)