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Eating healthily to reduce cancer risk

The risk of developing cancer can be reduced by having a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, according to the NHS.

No one food has been proven to prevent cancer, but some foods and ingredients have been linked to a higher cancer risk. As many as one in 10 cancers may be linked to diet.

Having a healthy balanced diet and following the 5-a-day guidance is important to give the body the nutrients it needs.

The NHS also encourages other healthy lifestyle behaviours to help prevent cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking and protecting the skin from sun damage.

Fruit and veg

In the list of top risk factors for cancer in men in the UK, a lack of fruit and vegetables is in second place and is responsible for around 9,641 male cancer cases a year.

For women, not eating enough fruit and veg ranks in fifth place, being linked with around 5,261 cancer cases a year.

Other diet issues linked with an increased cancer risk include eating too much red and processed meat, a lack of fibre and having too much salt.

Red and processed meat

Meat is a good source of protein and other nutrients, but too much of some types of meat can be bad for you.

In 2011, the government issued new advice on cutting down on red or processed meat to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

The independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) looked at the evidence about eating red and processed meat and a greater risk of bowel cancer.

It concluded that if you eat around 90g or more a day, after it is cooked, it is a good idea to cut back.

Cooked meat weighs about 70% of its uncooked weight, mainly because it contains less water. 90g of cooked meat, the scientists say, is equivalent to about 130g of uncooked meat

The scientists were not advising cutting out meat entirely but having it less often and having smaller portions will help. The Department of Health says just by cutting back by 20g a day to the UK average 70g a day of red and processed meat cuts the risk of bowel cancer.

Eating too much processed meat, including sausages, ham, salami and bacon increases the risk of dying young from cancer, a 2013 study suggested in BMC Medicine.


Although the NHS says there's not enough evidence to link too much fat in the diet to the risk of developing cancer, too much fat is bad for health in general.

Eating a diet high in saturated fat can make a person but on weight, and being very overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of developing some cancers.

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