Diet and Cancer

Eat To Live, Do Not Live To Eat

Our food includes different types of nutrients, vitamins and other things (food additives). Some of these protect us against cancers where as others increase the risk. Knowing that dietary factors also play a significant role in cancer risk, it is important to know whether the food we are eating nourishes our body, protects us from disease or is harmful to us.

  • [1] 1 out of 10 cancers (10%) may be linked to diet and over half of these are caused by eating less than 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day [1].
  • [2] Diets rich in saturated fats (400gm) , salt and poor in fiber are associated with increased risk of cancer. The people who eat more of red and processed meats are more likely to develop stomach and bowel cancers [2-4].
  • [3] The way we cook might also increases our cancer risk. Chemicals are released when we cook food at high temperatures which can damage body cells putting them at risk to become cancerous [5].
  • [4] Some studies have shown that the calcium in milk reduces the bowel cancer risk while others have linked high intake of dairy proteins with prostate cancer [6].
  • [5] Most additives, colors, flavors and sweeteners have not been found to increase the risk of cancers [1,7].
  • Even in small quantity processed food, Alcohol  can increase the risk for a number of cancers including that of liver, mouth, bowel, throat, food pipe and breast [1,4].
  • [6] Other Indian foods associated with cancer risk are high rice intake, spicy food, excess chilly consumption, use of soda and consumption of dried salted fish [9].
  • Insoluble grain fiber in coarse grains (e.g., rye, sorghum, maize, barley and millets) [10].
  • Micronutrients like vitamins and trace elements [11].
  • Vitamins A, E, and trace minerals such as selenium, zinc [12].
  • Vitamin-D and calcium are also found to give protection against colorectal cancer [13].
  • Green tea and its compounds [14].

diet and cancer

  • Retinoids (found in orange and red vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, peaches and carrots) have been found to inhibit cancer growth in epithelial tissues [15].
  • 13-Cis-Retinoic acid is used in the treatment of skin and cervical cancers [16].
  • High intake of Beta-Carotene rich foods decrease the incidence of esophageal cancer.

National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) recommends a diet (min 400gm) that includes high intake of fresh vegetables, fruits, garlic and spices such as turmeric in adequate amounts for cancer prevention [17].

Diet and Specific Cancers

Cervical Cancer [18]

  • A diet high in carotenoids, vegetables, and fruits may reduce the risk of cervical, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.
  • High intake of vitamins C and E may reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Breast Cancer [19]

  • Intake of more of saturated fats and obesity have been linked to breast cancer.
  • The nutrition guidelines and the World Cancer Research Fund recommendations advocate that having a diet with liberal amount of vegetables and fruits, less of saturated fats decreases that risk of breast cancer.
  • Oral Cancer [20]

  • Increased consumption of fish, eggs, raw and cooked vegetables, and fruit is associated with a decreased risk of oral cancer.
  • Good Nutritional Habits [17]

    1- Eat whole grain bread, cereals, poultry products, fish and soya.
    2- Avoid refined food products
    3- Eat foods low in calorie and fat
    4- Limit eating high calorie baked foods (cakes, cookies, doughnuts). Read about high calorie foods.
    5- Avoid eating deep fried foods (samosa, kachori, puri, bhatoore)


    [1] Diet causing cancer. Cancer Research UK
    [2] Eat healthily cut your cancer risk. Cancer Research UK. 2013
    [3] Kim E, Coelho D and Blachier F. Review of the association between meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. Nutr Res 2013;33:983-94
    [4] World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective/World Cancer Research Fund, in association with American Institute for Cancer Research. Washington, DC: American Institute for Cancer Research, 2007
    [5] Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute.
    [6] Tsilidis KK1, Travis RC, Appleby PN, et al. Insulin-like growth factor pathway genes and blood concentrations, dietary protein and risk of prostate cancer in the NCI Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium (BPC3). Int J Cancer 2013;133:495-504
    [8] Sumathi B, Ramalingam S, Navaneethan U, et al. Risk factors for gastric cancer in South India. Singapore Med J 2009;50:147-51
    [9] Mathew A, Gangadharan P, Varghese C, et al. Diet and stomach cancer: a case-control study in South India. Eur J Cancer Prev 2000;9:89-97..
    [10] Jonnalagadda S, Harnack L, Rui Hai Liu, et al.  Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. J Nutr 2011;141:1011S–22S
    [11] Mobarhan S. Micronutrient supplementation trials and the reduction of cancer and cerebrovascular incidence and mortality. Nutr Rev. 1994;52:102-5
    [12] Rayman MP; Dietary selenium: time to act. BMJ 1997;314:387-8
    [13] Wactawski-Wende J, Kotchen JM, Anderson GL, et al. Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and the risk of colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med 2006;354:684–96
    [14] Changping Zou, Huaguang Liu, Jean M. Feugang et al. Green Tea Compound in Chemoprevention of Cervical Cancer. Int J Gynecol Cancer 2010;20:617–24
    [15] Dragnev KH1, Rigas JR, Dmitrovsky E. The retinoids and cancer prevention mechanisms. Oncologist 2000;5:361-8
    [16] Lippman SM, Kavanagh JJ, Paredes-Espinoza M et al. 13-cis-retinoic acid plus interferon alpha-2a: highly active systemic therapy for squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. J Natl Cancer Inst 1992;84:241-5
    [17] Dietary Guidelines for Indians. 2011. National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India
    [18] Sinha R, Anderson DE, McDonald SS, Greenwald P.  Cancer risk and diet in India.  J Postgrad Med 2003;49:222-28
    [19] World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective/World Cancer Research Fund, in association with American Institute for Cancer Research. Washington, DC: American Institute for Cancer Research, 1997
    [20] Rajkumar T, Sridhar H, Balaram P, et al. Oral cancer in Southern India: the influence of body size, diet, infections and sexual practices. Eur J Cancer Prev 2003;12:135-43