Cancer and Nutrition: What's the Connection

Are there specific foods or nutrition supplements that can prevent cancer, cure cancer, or even keep cancer from recurring?


Researchers continue to make new discoveries; however, there is currently no scientific evidence that one single food or dietary supplement can protect against cancer alone. There is evidence that eating a healthy diet, including regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight are the best defenses against some types of cancers.


Focus on Plant Foods


Plant foods contain fiber, phytochemicals and other nutrients that keep our body healthy. These nutrient-rich foods are low in calories, which make them great additions to a meal plan focused on weight control. Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.


One serving of fruits and vegetables may include:

  • one medium piece of fruit
  • ½ cup fruit
  • ½ cup of 100 percent juice
  • ¼ cup dried fruit
  • ½ cup raw non-leafy or cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup cooked beans or peas

Lower Intake of Sugar and Fat


Limit processed foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and fat. Avoid drinking high sugar beverages, like soft drinks or fruit flavored drinks. Choose healthier beverages like water, unsweetened tea, and coffee. Replace saturated fat and trans fat with monounsaturated fat and polyunstatured fat like avocados, unsalted nuts and seeds, fish, olive oil and canola oil.


Decrease Intake of Red Meat and Processed Meats


Eat no more than 18 oz. (cooked weight) of red meat per week, including beef, pork and lamb. Red meats are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. Avoid meats like ham, bacon, salami, sausage, and hot dogs that have had preservatives added or are preserved by curing, smoking, and salting. Include lean protein sources like poultry without skin, fish, beans, and lentils.


Limit Alcohol Consumption


Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and low in nutrients. If you do not drink alcohol, you should not start. If alcohol is consumed, men should limit intake to 2 drinks per day and women should limit intake to 1 drink per day. One drink is equal to one of the following:

  • 12 oz. beer
  • 4 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits


Cut Out the Salt


High salt foods may include frozen meals, bread, pizza, canned soups, chips, sauces, and processed meats. A low-sodium product contains less than 140 milligrams of sodium. Daily sodium intake should be less than 2400 milligrams per day.


Learn How to Read the Nutrition Facts Label


Avoid high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements. Focus on getting your nutrition through a healthy, balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods and beverages rather than taking high-doses of vitamins and minerals. Prior to taking any supplement, check with a registered dietitian or medical doctor.


Maintain a Healthy Body Weight


Carrying extra body fat around the waistline is harmful to your health. It’s important to be as lean as possible without being underweight. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool used to determine if your weight is putting you at risk for health problems. A healthy range for most individuals is 18.5-24.9. By maintaining a healthy body weight you will not only reduce cancer risk, you will also be less likely to develop other diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Be Physically Active


Regular physical activity keeps hormone levels healthy, strengthens immune system, promotes healthy digestion, and prevents weight gain. Include at least 30 minutes of physical activity everyday. For the most benefit, work towards at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Limit sedentary behaviors like watching television or playing video games. Remember, any type of exercise is better than none.


Kelly Nuckolls is a registered dietitian at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and is devoted to inpatient nutrition care for the oncology, bone marrow transplant, hematology, and palliative care services. UW Health's Registered Dietitians provide accurate, evidence-based nutrition information that promotes health and wellness to empower individuals to make healthy lifestyle changes that will enhance their health. Recommendations may vary based on your individual health history. For a personalized nutrition plan contact UW Health to schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. For more nutrition information, visit the Nutrition and Health Library.