by Gael Myers, Accredited Practising Dietitian

With close to 150,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia each year, it’s not surprising that people are looking for the secret ingredient to reduce their risk. 

Up to a third of cancer cases can be prevented – and the food we eat can play a big role in this.

But with so much information out there about food and cancer, and everyone from doctors to crusading mums to celebrity chefs weighing in, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to getting accurate nutrition information.

Here are 7 dietitian approved tips for reducing your cancer risk.

Eat more of these…

1. Fibre filled foods

Homestyle baked beans

Think wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Eating high fibre foods, especially wholegrains, may reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Fibre also helps you feel full for longer, stabilises blood sugar levels and is a favourite food for your gut bugs. With countless studies coming out about the link between our gut ‘microbiome’ and health, it’s a good idea to keep the bacteria in our gut happy and well fed.

Add more fibre to your day:

  • Choose oats for brekkie – they’re quick, affordable and delicious!
  • Sprinkle toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds onto soups, pastas and salads
  • Add lentils or beans to burritos, curries and stews
  • Snack on almonds and cashews
  • Opt for wholegrain breads and brown rice

2. Fruit and vegetables

Eat Brighter LiveLighter

No surprises here!

Eating plenty of fruit and veg is linked to lower rates of lung cancer and cancers of the digestive tract. Go for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of veg each day. There’s no one fruit or vegetable that you need to focus on – aiming to eat across the colours of the rainbow will give you the best mix of nutrients for health.

3. Dairy foods

Homemade muesli

Not only are dairy foods packed full of calcium and protein for healthy bones and muscles, they may also reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Scientists think that the cancer preventing property of dairy foods may be due their high calcium content.

Add milk to your cereal, grate cheese over your pasta and have yoghurt as a snack. If you don’t eat dairy opt for calcium fortified plant-based milk alternatives instead.

4. Coffee


This one is great news for those who can’t leave the house without a morning brew.

Research shows that drinking coffee may offer protection against liver and endometrial cancer. Coffee contains many different antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid, which are thought to be responsible for the reduced cancer risk.

And less of these…

1. Processed meat

Processed meat

Processed meats like bacon, salami and ham increase your risk of bowel cancer.  Swap deli meats for healthier options like chicken, tuna, hummus or eggs.

When it comes to red meat, less is more. Red meat is a great source of nutrients like protein, iron and zinc, but eating more than 500g each week could increase your bowel cancer risk. If you eat red meat, stick to 2-3 serves a week.

2. Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks

There’s no easy way to say this – drinking alcohol increases your risk of eight cancers including breast, bowel and liver. The more you drink, and the more often you drink, the greater the risk. Reduce your risk by cutting back, choosing drinks with a lower alcohol content or skipping the booze altogether. For more tips check out Alcohol. Think Again.

3. Sugary drinks and junk food

Junk food

Sugary drinks and junk food contains lots of kilojoules and don’t have the good stuff our body needs like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. A 600mL bottle of soft drink contains a whopping 16 teaspoons of sugar, nearly three times the daily limit recommended by the World Health Organization. Having too many of these foods and drinks can lead to weight gain, and weight gain is a risk factor for 13 types of cancer.

There’s also emerging evidence that sugary drinks may be directly linked to cancer risk, but we’ll have to wait for more research to come out before we know this for sure.

Overweight and cancer

Key ‘takeaways’ for reducing cancer risk

  • Fill your plate with vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy
  • Avoid processed meats like bacon, salami and ham
  • Choose drinks with a lower alcohol content, cut back, or skip the booze altogether 
  • Cut sugary drinks and steer clear of fast food

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