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, meat and meat alternatives and salt (sodium).  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:

Fruit and vegetables

There is probable* evidence which suggests the fruit and vegetables below reduce the risk of corresponding cancers.

Non-starchy vegetables* and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, and stomach.

Allium vegetables*/Cruciferous vegetables and stomach cancer

Garlic and bowel cancer

Foods containing carotenoids*, and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, lung, stomach

Foods containing folate * and pancreatic cancer

Foods containing carotenoids* and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, lung

Foods containing beta-carotene* or vitamin C* and oesophageal cancer

Foods containing lycopene* or selenium* and prostate cancer

*Click on word for definition (in a new window).

(Source: World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007)

For more information visit the Fruit and vegetables page.

To find out more about how fruit and vegetables can reduce your cancer risk see the Cancer Council's position statement on Fruit, vegetables and cancer prevention.

Despite the lack of convincing evidence linking fruit, vegetables and cancer it is well established that eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of people becoming overweight and obese.  There is convincing evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of the following cancers: 

  • Oesophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Bowel 
  • Breast (in women who have had their menopause)
  • Endometrium (lining of the womb or uterus)
  • Kidney 

Fibre and wholegrain foods

There is probable evidence that foods containing dietary fibre* reduces risk of bowel cancer.

*Click on word for definition

(Source: World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007)

For more information visit the Wholegrain foods page.

To find out more about how fibre and wholegrain cereals can reduce your cancer risk see the Cancer Council's position statement on Fibre, wholegrain cereals and cancer.

Meat and meat alternatives

There is convincing evidence that red and processed meat* increases risk of bowel cancer, with probable evidence that cantonese-style salted fish increases risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

*Click on word for definition

(Source: World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007)

For more information visit the Meat and meat alternatives page.

 Salt (sodium)

There is probable evidence that salt, salted and salty foods increase risk of stomach cancer

(Source: World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007)

For more information visit the Salt (sodium) page.

To find out more about how salt (sodium) can increase your cancer risk see the Cancer Council's position statement on Salt and cancer risk.