Lowering Your Risk of Cancer: What About Specific Foods?

woman grocery shopping with a grocery cart

You may be wondering how certain foods, ingredients and nutrients may impact your risk of cancer. Here is a list of foods, ingredients and nutrients that have been studied to determine if there is a link with cancer risk.   

Plant foods and lowering your risk of cancer

Plant foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas and lentils) may help lower cancer risk. That’s because plant foods have phytochemicals (plant chemicals), antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre that protect our bodies against cell damage.

Tea and coffee and lowering your risk of cancer

Some research shows that tea (particularly green tea) may help protect against cancer because it contains antioxidants. More research is needed to confirm if tea lowers cancer risk. Some research suggests that coffee may protect against cancer, but more research is needed. There is no current evidence linking coffee to increased cancer risk.

Garlic and other allium vegetables and lowering your risk of cancer

Allium vegetables like onions, chives, leeks and scallions may protect against stomach cancer. These foods help by limiting bacteria that may cause stomach cancer and preventing cancer cells from growing. Some research suggests that garlic (an allium vegetable) may protect against colorectal cancer. Allium vegetables have high amounts of cancer fighting sulfur compounds, which give them their distinctive flavour and aroma.

Red and processed meat and lowering your risk of cancer 

A diet high in red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat) and processed meat (sausages, bacon, hotdogs and deli meat) can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by forming cancer-causing compounds in our bodies. Many processed meats also have food additives like nitrates that may promote cancer growth. Have red meat less often and have smaller portions. Avoid processed meats or save them for special occasions.

Sugar and lowering your risk of cancer

Sugar does not increase cancer risk. However, foods high in sugar may also be low in other nutrients that might help protect against cancer. 

Artificial sweeteners and lowering your risk of cancer

Some animal studies have shown a possible link between very high doses of artificial sweeteners and cancer in rats. Studies of people who use artificial sweeteners have not shown an increased risk of cancer. The amount of sweetener that a person may consume in a day is typically well below what is considered safe.

Genetically modified foods and lowering your risk of cancer

There is no known research that looks at Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) and cancer. Health Canada states that GMOs are safe to eat.

Vitamin D and lowering your risk of cancer

Some research shows that vitamin D may help lower overall cancer risk. It is unclear how this vitamin may impact cancer risk. More research is still needed.

Omega-3 fats and lowering your risk of cancer

It is not yet clear if omega-3 fats play a role in cancer risk. More research is needed.

Bottom line

Eating well can help to lower your risk of getting cancer. Enjoy a variety of healthy foods every day.

You may also be interested in 

Lowering your risk of cancer
Lowering your risk of cancer: You and your environment
My Cancer IQ, Cancer Care Ontario – Complete a cancer risk assessment and get your personalized action plan to help lower your risk of cancer.

Last Update – February 19, 2021

Phone Icon

Dietitians look beyond fads to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Want to unlock the potential of food? Connect with a dietitian.