Does having a healthy diet reduce my risk of cancer?

  • Yes, having a healthy and balanced diet can reduce the risk of cancer
  • This is partly from the effect of the diet itself, but mostly by helping you keep a healthy weight or lose weight
  • Your overall diet (what you eat day to day) is more important than individual foods for reducing your cancer risk

How does a healthy diet reduce cancer risk?

What we eat and drink can affect our health in lots of ways.

For most of us, diet has a big impact on our weight. Keeping a healthy weight is important because obesity is a cause of 13 different types of cancer. Having a healthy diet, helps you keep a healthy weight or lose weight, which can reduce the risk of cancer. Find out more about obesity and cancer.

Studying the effect of what we eat on cancer risk is difficult because our diets are made up of lots of different types of food and drink. But there is good evidence that having an overall healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. There are some foods that are directly linked to cancer, but our overall diet is more important than these individually.

Find out more about how eating less processed and red meat and fitting in more fibre can reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

There are lots of foods that we hear about in the media, causing or preventing cancer. For a lot of these, there is no scientific evidence that this is the case. Find out more about these common food questions and myths.


What is a healthy diet?

We often hear that a healthy and balanced diet is good for us, but what does this mean?

We recommend a diet high in:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • wholegrains (such as brown rice or wholegrain bread)
  • healthy sources of protein like fresh chicken, fish or pulses (such as lentils or beans)

And low in:

Find out more about what to put on your plate.


Brown KF, Rumgay H, Dunlop C, et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal of Cancer. 2018;118:1130-1141.

NICE. Preventing excess weight gain. Nice Guid. 2015;(March). . Accessed Oct 23rd 2020.

Secretan BL, Ph D, Scoccianti C, Ph D, Loomis D, Ph D. Special Report Body Fatness and Cancer — Viewpoint of the IARC Working Group. 2016.

World Cancer Research Fund. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. A summary of the Third Expert Report 2018.


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