Eating healthy food and being a healthy weight is an important part of reducing your cancer risk.
The Cancer Society wants to see less cancer caused by unhealthy food and weight in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Diet and weight related cancers are a key focus for the Cancer Society, as after tobacco they are the biggest preventable cause of cancer in Aotearoa.
Healthy food is essential to keep the next generation a healthy weight and free from diet and weight-related cancers.
We know it's not always easy, and that's why improving access to healthy food is an important area of our work.
To reduce your risk of cancer, we recommend that you:
- be a healthy weight
- be physically active
- eat a diet rich in wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and beans (lentils and legumes)
- limit ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars
- limit red and processed meat
- limit sugary drinks
- avoid or limit alcohol
- do not use supplements for cancer prevention
- breastfeed your baby, if you're able.
- Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki. (2010) Kia Kaha Te Kai: Easy cooking for healthy whānau
- Healthy Food Guide
- Heart Foundation - 2016) Pasifika Flavours
- Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Kai Lelei: Recipes for large families
- Health Promotion Agency - My Family Recipes
- Heart Foundation (2019) - Affordable eats: Easy and tasty family meals that make your food budget go further
- HeartFoundation (2018) - Full O Beans: Tasty and affordable legume recipes for the whole family
Frequently asked questions
There is strong evidence that unhealthy diet and weight increases the likelihood of at least 12 cancers. These include cancer of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), food pipe (oesophagus), stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, bowel, kidney, ovaries, lining of the womb (endometrium), and breast cancer (after menopause).
Yes. Eating healthy kai, being a healthy weight or Body Mass Index (BMI) and being physically active are important ways to protect against cancer. A healthy weight and diet (not specific nutrients or foods) can reduce the chance of at least 12 types of cancers.
No one should feel blamed for developing cancer. Not everyone who has an unhealthy weight will develop cancer.
In most cases we do not know the specific causes of an individual's cancer. Many factors can combine to increase the likelihood of cancer, but individual risk depends on lots of things including some you cannot change like your age, family history and the environment in which you live. However, being a healthy weight can reduce the chance of developing some cancers.
Inflammation, insulin resistance and excess hormones such as oestrogen, which are caused by excess body fat, can increase the risk of developing and the rate of growth of some cancers including breast and womb cancer.
It is never too late to eat a healthier diet and be a healthier weight. Changing habits is not easy and may not provide an immediate decline in the chance of developing cancer, but the risk will decrease over time.
A diet rich in nutrient dense, fresh whole food such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, lentils, nuts, milk and milk products as recommended by the Ministry of Health is good for health and can reduce cancer risk.
Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods every day, including:
- plenty of vegetables and fruit
- wholegrain foods, naturally high in fiber such as wholemeal bread, crackers, breakfast cereal, rice, and pasta.
- some milk and milk products (cheese and yoghurt) or plant alternatives that are mostly low or reduced-fat.
- some lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds or fish, chicken and/or red meat (less than 350 - 500g cooked or 700-750 grams raw and no more than three portions per week), with the fat removed.
Choose and/or prepare foods and drinks:
- with unsaturated fats such as canola, corn, rice bran, soy or olive oil, avocado and margarine instead of saturated fats like butter, coconut, palm oil or cheese.
- that are low in salt (sodium). Choose reduced or non-added salt foods such as peanut butter or margarine. If you use salt, choose iodised salt.
- with little or no added sugar and
- unprocessed, such as fresh fruit rather than juice, whole potatoes rather than crisps, porridge rather than rice bubbles.
It’s never too late to start making some small changes to your eating habits.
Think about what makes it hard to eat healthy kai and how you and your whānau could make it easier.
Get your whānau on board and get started by setting two to three small goals from this list:
- make water your ‘go-to' drink
- start the day with porridge or Weetbix with milk and fruit
- take a wholemeal sandwich or roll and fruit for lunch
- get cooking with the whānau - this can be fun, healthier and cheaper
- grow your own or visit your local fruit and veg market - it's fresh and cheaper
- try cheaper meatless meals using lentils, legumes or Tofu
- learn about food labels and the 'Health Star Rating' of packaged foods