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 usually eat in a normal week) is more important than individual foods when it comes to cancer. 

When it comes to diet and cancer, there are lots of common questions and myths. Read on to find out about how eating a healthy, balanced diet can reduce the risk of cancer.  
 

How does a healthy diet reduce my risk of cancer?

What we eat and drink can affect our health in lots of ways. Having too much sugary food and drink, or food high in calories (including fast food) can make it easier to gain weight. 

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 weight, obesity, and cancer

When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees. Overall diet has a bigger impact on cancer risk than individual foods. But some specific foods can also affect cancer risk. 

 

What are some cancer-causing foods and drinks? 

There are some foods that can increase the risk of cancer, but eating these doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer.  

For a healthy balanced diet, cut down on: 

 

Are there foods that prevent cancer? 

There are no ‘super foods’ that can guarantee you won’t get cancer. But there are some foods that can reduce the risk, particularly when it comes to bowel cancer:

  • High-fibre foods 
    Find out more about how high-fibre foods can form part of a healthy balanced diets, and can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. 
     
  • Dairy 
    Food and drinks like cheese and milk can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Read more about dairy and cancer. 
     

If you want to know about a specific food and if it can cause or prevent cancer, take a look at these common food questions and myths

 

Is there an 'anti-cancer' diet?

There’s no one diet that can guarantee that you won’t get cancer. But eating a healthy, balanced diet can reduce the risk. 

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

A healthy balanced diet means eating mostly fruit and vegetables, plenty of wholegrains (these include things like brown pasta and wholegrain bread) and healthier sources of protein like fresh chicken, fish or pulses (including lentils and beans). 

And it’s best to cut down on processed and red meat (like bacon, sausages and chicken nuggets), high-calorie foods (including fast food), sugary drinks (including fizzy drinks and energy drinks)1 and alcohol. 

Find out more about how to eat a healthy, balanced diet across your week. 

 

How do I stick to a healthy diet? 

Healthy changes are not always easy to make, and the world around us can make it harder still.  

But you can eat tasty, healthy food, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot or take up too much time. Read our tips on shopping and cooking on a budget. 

 

Ubago-Guisado E, Rodriguez-Barranco M, Ching-Lopez A, Petrova D, Molina-Montes E, Amiano P, et al. Evidence Update on the Relationship between Diet and the Most Common Cancers from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(10). 

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). https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng7 . Accessed Oct 23rd 2020.

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