How diet can reduce your risk of cancer

By following a few nutrition and lifestyle guidelines, you can reduce your risk of many cancers. Dietition Tim Crowe shares his tips.

Written by Tim Crowe
A beautiful senior Mexican Woman working out and stretching with weights

One in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. And while cancer can certainly come out of nowhere – many cases may be preventable, by making some nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Evidence shows that your lifestyle can have a dramatic impact on your risk of cancer over the long term. Read on to find out more about simple changes you can make.

Diet and cancer

There is no single ‘superfood’ that can prevent cancer. A combination of good eating habits and food variety offer the greatest benefit.

It’s probably no surprise that fruit, vegetables and unprocessed grains come out on top as the best ‘cancer-preventing’ foods. Try to eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruits each day, with the emphasis on eating different types – use colour as your best guide to variety.

Getting more fibre in your diet by eating more wholegrain foods and cutting back on processed foods may help lower your risk of bowel cancer .

It is also wise to cut back on the amount of red meat and processed meat in your diet – with research suggesting it may increase your risk of bowel cancer risk. Having fish in place of meat occasionally could give you a double benefit, as the omega-3 oils in fish have been linked to lowering the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer.

When it comes to alcohol, it’s best to limit your drinking . Alcohol is linked to cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, breast, bowel and liver, and the more you drink, the greater the risk. Of course, it’s not realistic for all of us to give up drinking altogether – but cutting back where you can is a good way to balance your risk.

READ MORE: How to take a break from drinking

Carrying too much weight, especially around the middle, is a known cancer risk, especially for breast and bowel cancer. Men should aim for a waist circumference below 94 cm, while women should aim for below 80 cm.

For some people, a complete lifestyle overhaul can be a difficult thing to manage in one go. Focus on one change at a time, and slowly work your way towards a lifestyle that will give you the best chance of a long, healthy life.

7 ways to reduce your cancer risk

  1. Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is a key way to reduce your risk of many cancers – and the other health benefits of being smoke-free make it a no-brainer. For help quitting visit
  2. Be active. 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day improves your health in a number of ways as well as helping reduce your risk of developing some cancers.
  3. Reduce alcohol. Alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for many cancers, including breast cancer. Try reducing your alcohol intake and scheduling in alcohol-free days each week. If you can give up drinking (or take a break from drinking), even better.
  4. Eat well. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains keeps your body healthy and helps reduce your cancer risk. Try to limit or avoid processed meat, as well as salty, fatty and sugary food and drinks.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight. Staying within a healthy weight range can help lower your risk of many cancers – as well as reducing your chances of many other health complications like diabetes and heart disease. Eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and see your doctor for advice if you are struggling to get to a healthy weight.
  6. Be sun smart. Avoid spending too much time out in direct sunlight, and make sure you’re protecting yourself from the harmful effects of UV rays. Sunscreen, hats and shirts are your friends.
  7. Have regular check-ups. Go see your GP regularly to get everything checked out. It’s not so bad – really.

READ MORE: Could it be a sign of cancer? Changes to look out for

Written by Tim Crowe

Dr Tim Crowe is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and career nutrition research scientist and educator

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