Food myths and cancer
- This page explains what the evidence really says about different foods causing or preventing cancer.
- Food from the UK and EU is produced to strict standards.
- There is no good evidence that any one food prevents cancer. But you can reduce your risk by keeping a healthy weight and eating a healthy balanced diet.
What are carcinogenic foods?
If something is carcinogenic, it means that it could cause cancer. There aren’t many foods that cause cancer, but eating processed and red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer.
Can eating sugar, including refined sugar, cause cancer?
Eating sugar doesn’t cause cancer. This is true for all types of sugar, including refined sugar.
But too much sugar in our diets can make it harder to keep a healthy weight. And being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 types of cancer.
Read our blog for more information on sugar and cancer.
Does acrylamide or burnt food cause cancer?
Eating burnt food will not increase your risk of cancer.
Foods such as burnt toast or crispy potatoes contain a chemical called acrylamide. This is created when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures for a long time.
Read more about acrylamide and cancer.
Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer?
There is no convincing evidence that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame cause cancer.
Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame can be found in lots of products from diet versions of fizzy drinks to chewing gum.
Read more about artificial sweeteners and cancer.
Do eggs cause cancer?
No, eating eggs does not cause cancer.
Studies have looked at the relationship between eggs and different types of cancer, but there is no good evidence that eggs affect cancer risk. Eggs can provide a source of protein as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Does eating tinned food cause cancer?
No, eating canned or tinned food does not affect cancer risk.
Some tins and cans are lined with something called Bisphenol-A (BPA). Some people have wondered if BPA affects cancer risk, but this is not backed up by good evidence. Eating food that has been stored in BPA-lined tins does not cause cancer.
Does eating soy (soya) affect cancer risk?
Eating soy products does not affect cancer risk, including breast cancer.
Soy products such as tofu and soy milk contain chemicals called isoflavones. These are like the human hormone oestrogen, but have much milder effects. That’s why some people have wondered if there’s a link between soy products and breast cancer. But neither soy products nor isoflavones affect cancer risk.
Can any foods prevent cancer?
No single food can prevent cancer, but eating wholegrain foods that are high in fibre does reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
There are lots of myths about foods preventing cancer. We look at some of the most popular myths below.
Can green tea prevent cancer?
Green tea and matcha (powdered green tea) do not reduce the risk of cancer.
Some people have suggested that green tea might reduce the risk of cancer. This is because it contains catechin - an antioxidant. But results from large studies have not shown that green tea reduces the risk of cancer in humans.
Can superfoods prevent cancer?
The word ‘superfood’ is used to talk about foods that are supposed to improve health and prevent diseases like cancer, but this is not backed up by science. You might have heard people call blueberries, broccoli, raspberries and other fruits and vegetables ‘superfoods’.
It’s true that a healthy, balanced diet can help to reduce the risk of cancer, but it is unlikely that any single food will make much of a difference on its own.
Can tomatoes prevent cancer?
No, eating tomatoes doesn’t prevent cancer.
Some studies have looked at whether eating tomatoes might help prevent prostate cancer. These studies focused on a chemical in tomatoes called lycopene. But there is no good evidence that lycopene reduces overall cancer risk or the risk of prostate cancer.
Even so, tomatoes, like other fruits and vegetables, can still be part of a healthy balanced diet, which can help to reduce the risk of cancer overall.
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
Toews I, Lohner S, Küllenberg de Gaudry D, Sommer H, Meerpohl JJ. Association between intake of non-sugar sweeteners and health outcomes: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials and observational studies. BMJ. 2019 Jan 2;364:k4718. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k4718. Erratum in: BMJ. 2019 Jan 15;364:l156. PMID: 30602577; PMCID: PMC6313893.