The Diet-Cancer Link - Evidence Keeps Mounting



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


We’ve published numerous articles over the past several years about the impact diet and nutrition can have on reducing the risk of developing diseases, including certain cancers. There are links between diet and cancers such as lymphoma, brain, prostate and breast cancer (among other types of cancer). This supports the claim that what you eat has a direct impact on every aspect of your health, including your body’s ability to resist certain cancers.

If these associations haven’t convinced you to start being proactive about having a healthier diet – and lifestyle in general – perhaps a study recently published in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum will get your attention.

The study revealed that more than 80,000 new cancer cases in the United States among adults 20 years and older over the course of just one year were associated with simply eating a poor diet. From a statistical standpoint, this is equivalent to a little over five percent of all invasive cancers newly diagnosed during the year of the study.

To give this some perspective, this is about the same proportion of cancers linked to alcohol consumption, which is between four and six percent.  

This particular study went even further by evaluating seven important dietary behaviors and their impact on specific cancers and cancer in general. These behaviors were not eating enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy products and consuming way too much of processed meats, red meats and sugary beverages. The results, based on data covering a four-year period, were not very surprising and what you would expect given the importance of healthy eating.

The associations of these habits with cancer, from highest to lowest, were:

  • Low consumption of whole-grains (highest association)
  • Low consumption of dairy products
  • High consumption of processed meats
  • Low consumption of vegetables and fruits
  • High consumption of red meat
  • High consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages

The researchers found that colon and rectal cancers, at a little over 38 percent, had the highest number and proportion of diet-related cancer cases. Looking at this another way, these types of cancers had the highest probable likelihood of being prevented had the patients’ diets been healthier. These cancers were followed by cancer of the mouth, pharynx and larynx, uterus; post-menopausal breast, kidney, stomach and liver. It appears that very few cancers are not impacted by diet.

While it’s disturbing that so many people may be getting sick from the foods they are eating, it’s also empowering to know this information, because diet is something we all have the ability to control.

Diet habits that contributed the most to cancer overall are not getting enough whole grains and dairy and having a diet heavy in red and processed meats. Both of these factors can be readily addressed with simple lifestyle changes.  

Researchers also found that being overweight is associated with up to eight percent of cancers, and diet, of course, plays a major role in attaining and staying at a healthy weight. Obesity, in fact, has a known association with some 13 types of cancer, and about 16 percent of the cancers developed by patients during the study could be linked to obesity.

This new data tends to support the current thinking that less than 30 percent of your risk of getting cancer comes from factors outside of your control and that the remaining risks are literally up to you.

In terms of sex and ethnicity, the researchers also found that men between 45 and 64 and ethnic minorities, including Blacks and Hispanics, were more likely to develop diet-related cancers than other groups. More research is needed into the socio-economic, cultural and gender variables that could have resulted in this apparent link and especially in comparing diet and eating habits across these groups. Some studies, for example, have shown that traditional, Southern “soul food” can have a negative health impact among specific populations.

How to be proactive?

There is a lot you can do to reduce the risk that your diet may contribute to the development of cancer. One of the easiest steps is to reduce consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods (which includes most fast food and junk food).  

There is evidence that around 60 percent of the calories in the average American diet come from this kind of food. Even scarier is that your risk of an early death increases by 14 percent for every 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods you eat. So making the switch to organic or whole foods can lower your overall risk of developing cancer. Clearly, it’s  definitely worth grabbing an apple versus apple juice or some crunchy vegetables instead of a sugar-loaded snack cake.

Other dietary steps you can immediately take to reduce your risk of cancer include the following:

  • Increase intake of the foods that are natural antioxidants. These include all the “bright colored” fruits and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and spinach.
  • Consider eating foods with a lower glycemic index (GI), which indicates how quickly carbohydrates in any given food convert to glucose in your system. There is evidence that eating foods with a high GI (70 or above on a scale to 100) greatly increased risk of prostate cancer while foods with a low GI lowered the risk for both colorectal and prostate cancer.
  • Make sure you get enough calcium, since there is evidence to suggest it can lower the risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.
  • Try following a Mediterranean-type diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive oil, fish and avocados. This type of diet can lower your risk for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer.
  • Know the minerals that are important to protect you from certain cancers like magnesium, selenium, calcium, zinc, copper, iron and sulphur.
  • Get a nutrient test to know if you have too little or too much of a specific nutrient. You always want to avoid nutrient imbalances in order to feel your healthiest and further decrease your odds of getting sick. Vitamin D, for example, has been shown to have cancer-preventive properties (specifically against liver cancer).   

As research continues to show the direct and undeniable link between diet and cancer, you owe it to yourself and to your loved ones to take a look at whether what you are eating is reducing or increasing your risk for developing cancer. Armed with this information, you can take the right steps to be proactive about protecting your health.


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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