Eat a healthy diet

Updated:  04 Aug, 2016
Fruit & vegetables  
To reduce cancer risk we recommend a healthy body weight, regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Vegetables and fruits

Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits is likely to reduce the risk of cancer of the mouth, throatoesophagus, stomach and bowel.

Recommendation: Adults should eat at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 of fruit daily. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should have slightly more and children slightly less. Eat a variety – fresh, tinned, frozen or dried – it all counts.

A serve size is about the same as an adult's handful.

1 serve of vegetables =

  • 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup of salad
  • 1/2 cup of legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas)

1 serve of fruit =

  • 2 pieces of small-sized fruit (such as apricots, plums and kiwi-fruit)
  • 1 piece of medium-sized fruit (such as an apple or orange)
  • 1 cup of fruit salad or canned fruit pieces

Breads and cereals

Dietary fibre can help lower the risk of bowel cancer. Wholegrain and wholemeal breads and cereals are high in dietary fibre (as are fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes).

Recommendation: Adults should eat at least 2 serves of wholegrain or wholemeal breads and cereals a day.

A serve =

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or noodles
  • 2/3 cup of wheat cereal flakes
  • 1/4 cup of muesli


Research suggests that eating red meat and, in particular, processed meat, may increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Recommendation: No more than 3 to 4 serves a week of cooked red meat is recommended. On other days try fish, chicken and other alternatives. Limit or avoid eating processed meats, such as sausages, frankfurts, bacon and salami.

A serve =

  • 65g of cooked lean red meat
  • 100g fish
  • 2 large eggs

Dairy foods

In terms of cancer risk, dairy foods and calcium have shown both protective and harmful effects. Overall the proven health benefits of dairy foods outweigh the unproven harms.

Recommendation: Dairy foods should be encouraged as part of a varied and nutritious diet as they are essential to maintain good bone and dental health. Cancer Council supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which encourage people to eat at least three serves of dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt) each day. See the Cancer Council's position statement on Dairy foods, calcium and cancer prevention for more information.


Excess body weight is a risk factor for cancers of the bowel, kidney, pancreas, oesophagus and endometrium, as well as breast cancer (after menopause). Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. 

Recommendation: Limit saturated fats found mostly in meat and dairy products, but also cakes, biscuits, snack foods and fried take-away foods. 'Good fats' (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) can be found in margarines, nuts, avocados and seeds.


Stomach cancer has been linked with high-salt diets in countries where salting of foods is a common preserving method. In countries where refrigeration is commonly used, stomach cancer is less common. 

Recommendation: Choose foods low in salt. Flavour foods with herbs, lemon juice and spices instead of salt. Try to limit salty snacks, take-away foods, processed meats, cheese and butter.

A 'low salt' food has less than 120mg of sodium per 100 grams.


There's no evidence that alcoholic drinks provide any protection against cancer. Alcohol is, in fact, an important risk factor for some cancers, particularly breast and bowel cancer, as well as cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver.

Recommendation: Alcohol consumption should be limited or avoided. 

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with increased energy intake and in turn, weight gain and obesity. It is well established that obesity is a leading risk factor for some cancers.

'Sugar-sweetened beverages' includes sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and cordial.

Recommendation: Adults and children should limit sugar-sweetened beverages and instead drink water or reduced fat milk. Visit for more information.

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