Eat a healthy diet

Fruits & vegetables
To reduce the risk of certain cancers 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: Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits. Adults should eat at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit each day. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should have slightly more and the recommendations for children are slightly lower. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit – it doesn't matter if they're fresh, tinned, frozen or dried – it all counts.

A serve size is about the same as an adult's handful, so adults should eat 5 handfuls of vegetables and 2 handfuls of fruit daily.

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

Fibre and wholegrain cereals

Dietary fibre may 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: Cancer Council recommends people eat at least 4 serves of breads and cereals each day and aim for at least half their daily serves to be wholegrain or wholemeal varieties.

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

Meat and meat alternatives

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

Recommendation: Cancer Council recognises that red meat is important for supplying iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein in the Australian diet. However, because of the possible link with bowel cancer, no more than 3 to 4 serves a week of red meat is recommended. On other days try fish, chicken and other alternatives. Adults should have 2 to 3 serves a day, depending on age and gender. Limit processed meats, such as sausages, frankfurts, bacon and ham.

A serve =

  • 65g of cooked lean red meat
  • 100g of fish
  • 80g of cooked lean chicken or turkey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 30g of nuts, seeds or nut-based pastes
  • 1 cup legumes (such as chick peas or lentils)

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 2.5 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.

Fat

According to current evidence there's no direct link between fat intake and cancer. However, a high-fat diet may cause excess body weight, which is a risk factor for several cancers including 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: As part of an overall healthy diet, limit saturated fats and moderate total fat intake. Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and dairy products, but are also found in cakes, biscuits, snack foods and fried take-away foods. 'Good fats' (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) can be found in margarines, nuts, avocados and seeds.

Salt

An increased risk of 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 not as common. Too much salt can also lead to high blood pressure.

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.

Alcohol

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: Cancer Council recommends that, to reduce the risk of cancer, alcohol consumption should be limited or avoided. For people who do drink alcohol the recommended amount is an average of no more than 2 standard drinks a day.

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.

The term '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 rethinksugarydrink.org.au for more information.

More information


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