Does having a healthy diet reduce my risk of cancer?

Coronavirus and cancer

We know it’s a worrying time for people with cancer, we have information to help. If you have symptoms of cancer contact your doctor.

Read our information about coronavirus and cancer

  • Yes, having a healthy and balanced diet can reduce the risk of cancer by helping you keep a healthy weight or lose weight
  • This is important because obesity is a cause of 13 different types of cancer
  • Having more or less of some food groups can reduce your cancer risk, but your overall diet is more important than individual foods

How does a healthy diet reduce cancer risk?

What we eat and drink can affect our health in lots of ways. There are some foods that are directly linked to cancer, but our overall diet is more important than these individually.

For most of us, diet also has a big impact on our weight. By having a healthy diet, you can keep a healthy weight or lose weight, which can reduce the risk of cancer.


What is a healthy diet?

We often hear that a healthy and balanced diet is good for us, but it can be hard to know what this looks like.

We recommend a diet high in;

  • fruit and vegetables
  • wholegrains (e.g. brown rice or wholegrain bread)
  • healthy proteins like fresh chicken, fish or pulses (e.g. lentils or beans)

And low in;

processed and red meat

high calorie foods

sugary drinks


Find out more about what to put on your plate here


How do we know that food and drink affect cancer risk?

Our diets are made up of lots of different types of food and drink, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the effect of just one of them on cancer risk.

Because of this, we need several big, long term studies to untangle the effect of one food or drink from the rest of our diet.

So far evidence from these studies show;

Foods high in fibre can reduce the risk of cancer


Processed and red meat can increase the risk of cancer


Alcohol can increase the risk of cancer


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

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.

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.

NICE. Preventing excess weight gain. Nice Guid. 2015;(March). . Accessed January 14, 2019.

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