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What you should know about the diet and cancer connection

Cancer is a category of diseases that can have a variety of causes, ranging from genetics to toxic exposure. A person’s diet can also influence whether or not they develop those cancers.

According to researchers, body weight, physical inactivity, inadequate diet, and excessive alcohol intake are linked to about 20% of all cancers in the United States.

Learn about the connections between diet and cancer in this post, as well as what foods to consume for cancer prevention and recovery.


Health foods
So far, studies have struggled to find a clear correlation between a person’s diet and their cancer risk.

There is no solid correlation between a particular diet and whether it increases or decreases a person’s risk of cancer, according to studies.

Since people consume a wide variety of foods and cook and prepare them in a variety of ways, it can be difficult to identify clear connections between cancer risk and specific foods.

However, some research suggests that certain foods can alter a person’s cancer risk. Among these foods are:

Processed foods

A 2018 study of more than 100,000 people found a correlation between eating ultra-processed foods and a substantial increase in the risk of developing certain forms of cancer — more than 10%.

The authors looked at how many highly processed foods were consumed, including:

  • packaged breads and buns
  • packaged sweet or salty snacks
  • sodas
  • sugary drinks
  • processed meat products, such as packaged meatballs or hot dogs
  • instant soups
  • ready meals
  • food products made mostly from sugar, oils, and fats
  • food products with hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and protein isolates

Red meat and processed meat

Some meats have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

According to the authors of a meta-analysis of several studies, eating processed meat on a regular basis can increase the risk of bladder cancer. The researchers discovered no correlation between eating nonprocessed red meat and bladder cancer.

The American Institute for Cancer Research claims that consuming some amount of processed meat on a daily basis raises the risk of stomach cancer and colorectal cancer.

Meats that have been processed include:

  • sliced turkey
  • bologna
  • bacon
  • ham
  • hot dogs
  • other deli meats

According to other studies, eating more than 18 ounces, or three servings, of red meat per week raises a person’s risk of colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon or rectum.


Drinking alcohol has been shown to increase a person’s risk of cancer in some parts of the body, including:

  • mouth
  • pharynx (throat)
  • larynx (voice box)
  • liver
  • esophagus
  • breast
  • colorectum

While experts are unsure why alcohol raises cancer risk, it may be due to chemicals in alcohol that damage DNA or impair the body’s ability to process and absorb nutrients.

Alcohol intake can be even more dangerous if a person also smokes cigarettes, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). They suggest that men have no more than two drinks a day and women have no more than one drink per day.

Being overweight

Maintaining a healthy weight can lower the risk of certain cancers.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese raises the chances of developing health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as certain cancers.

People who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing these cancers:

  • breast
  • colorectal
  • endometrial
  • esophageal
  • gallbladder
  • kidney
  • pancreatic
  • prostate
  • cervix
  • ovary

A doctor may assist a person in determining a healthy weight and, if appropriate, how to lose weight. A body mass index (BMI) estimate and waist measurements may be used to begin an evaluation.

Learn more about what the healthy weight range is by height and age here.

Cancer-fighting foods

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has the best support for cancer prevention. While experts are unsure of the exact causes of this impact, they believe that phytonutrients found in these plant foods can aid in the following:

  • regulating hormones, such as estrogen, which can lead to certain cancers
  • slowing cancer cell growth
  • preventing inflammation, which can lead to cancer and other diseases
  • avoiding damage from oxidants, which alter the body’s DNA

While dietary changes cannot prevent all cancers, eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables can help prevent certain cancers.

The AICR recommend:

  • acai berries
  • apples
  • beans and peas
  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • carrots
  • cherries
  • chili peppers
  • coffee
  • cranberries
  • dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard
  • flaxseeds, ground rather than whole seeds for better absorption
  • garlic
  • grapefruit
  • grapes
  • raspberries
  • tea
  • walnuts
  • whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, barley, millet, and in breads
  • winter squash

Fiber is abundant in many of the foods on this list. Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system and may also help to reduce the risk of colon cancer.


Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help reduce cancer risk, but whole foods, not supplements, should be consumed.

Taking vitamins and other supplements has not been shown to reduce the risk of cancer in studies. In fact, some studies have shown that taking such supplements can have negative consequences.

High dose beta carotene supplements, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, can increase the risk of lung cancer. According to other studies, high doses of vitamin E can raise the risk of prostate cancer.


plant based meals
During cancer treatment, a person should try to eat more plant-based meals.

Cancer patients do not need a special diet. – individual is different, as is their cancer type and treatment plan.

Some people lose weight as a result of cancer treatment and need additional calories. Others may wish to lose weight in order to improve their health when undergoing care.

Some cancer therapies cause nausea or other side effects, so patients will need to change their diet to find foods that do not bother their stomach.

Despite this, the American Cancer Society recommends the following recommendations for cancer patients:

  • Several times a week, substitute plant-based foods for meat.
  • Every day, aim to consume 212 cups of colourful fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce the intake of high-fat animal foods like processed and red meats.
  • Smoked, salt-cured, or pickled foods should be avoided.
  • Try to eat plenty of nutritious, high protein snacks, including cheese, yoghurt, nuts, whole grain cereal, beans, and soup.
  • Consider meal replacement shakes and supplements if the individual requires more calories.

A doctor may suggest specific dietary changes to help with cancer symptoms or treatment side effects.

If you have diarrhoea, stomach cramps, or digestive issues, for example, you will need to turn to low-fiber foods.

Foods that are soft and quick to chew, such as cooked fruits and vegetables, can be beneficial to people who have a sore throat.


In conclusion, following a healthy diet does not insure that a person will not develop cancer. It is, however, an effective way to lower the risk of certain forms of cancer as well as other illnesses including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

With more evidence of many fruits and vegetables’ cancer-fighting abilities emerging, growing a person’s consumption of these foods is a healthy and safe way to lower cancer risk.


Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.