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How food choices can reduce cancer risk


Diet is an important variable risk factor for changing cancer risk. Knowing how certain foods and diets can change cancer risk is an important exercise for setting evidence-based nutrition policy priorities to reduce the burden of cancer.

A study on diet and cancer simulations has just been published in the United States and is relevant to many comparable Western countries (because they have similar diets and cancer severity). The research team reviewed national data on food consumption and combined this with cancer. They then linked it all together with the well-known associations between diet and cancer.

How food choices can reduce cancer risk

Looking at seven key nutrition factors, the overall contribution to the cancer burden was five percent of all cases for the year. This figure corresponds to the severity of cancer related to alcohol, which is four to six percent. Overweight and obesity had a slightly higher cancer burden in seven to eight percent of cancer cases, and lack of physical activity was two to three percent.

Low consumption of whole grains and dairy products and high consumption of processed meat were the main causes of cancer. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables and too much red meat and sugar-sweetened drinks were other important factors in the diet.

For specific types of cancer, it was colorectal cancer that stood out as the one most affected by malnutrition: 38 percent of cases were related to nutrition. This was followed by cancer of the mouth, pharynx and larynx, where diet plays a role in 26 percent of all cases. Middle-aged men and racial and ethnic minorities experienced the highest proportion of dietary cancer burdens.


Diet is one factor that is completely under human control to change when it comes to reducing cancer risk. Eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables along with dairy products if a person wants to eat them, while cutting down on red meat and sugary drinks, can find the greatest health benefits.


For reference: Zhang FF et al. In the United States, the burden of preventable cancer is related to food. JNCI Cancer Spectrum 2019; 3 (2): pkz034.


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