​​By Sarah Buchanan, RD, Clinical Dietitian; Updated and reviewed by Karmen More, RD

Did you know that eating a healthy diet, being physically active and​ maintaining a weight that is healthy for you can help reduce your risk of developing certain cancers? This article will focus on healthy eating and specifically the types of foods most people need to reduce in their diet: red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and processed foods. ​​​

Note: If you are unable to eat well, please speak with your healthcare team before limiting these foods.​

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​​​ Eat Less Red Meat and Avoid Eating Processed Meats

Red meats are beef, veal, pork, goat and lamb. Processed meats include ham, bacon, salami, hotdogs and sausages. Processed meats have been preserved by curing, smoking or salting or from the addition of additives. Eating a lot of red and processed meats can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Avoid eating processed meats.
  • For dinner, limit red meat to twice a week. For the other five days, choose from a variety of healthy alternatives including turkey, fish, chicken, tofu and legumes (also known as dried peas and beans). A serving of cooked legumes is ¾ of a cup.
  • One serving of meat is about 75 grams, which is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of playing cards. Limit the amount of red meat you eat to about 350-500 grams per week.

​​​ Drink Less Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Drinks that have had sugar added to them increase your chance of gaining weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing colorectal, breast, esophageal, kidney, pancreatic and uterine cancer. Drinks with added sugar contain lots of calories and very few nutrients. For example, one can of Coca Cola contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, 90 calories, and 0 nutrition.

To decrease the amount of sugar-sweetened drinks you consume:

  • Choose water or unsweetened drinks instead of juice, soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks
  • Try to reduce the amount of sugar you use in your tea and coffee
  • When shopping, try to avoid buying drinks that have been sweetened with sugars like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup

​​​ Eat Less Processed Foods

Processed foods are foods that have been changed from their natural form. Some of these processed foods will have had extra sugar and fat added to them. Although this may make them taste better, it can also mean they have more calories. Consuming more calories than you need may increase your chance of gaining weight. As we know, being overweight increases our risk of developing certain types of cancers. Eat less processed foods high in fat and sugar such as baked goods, frozen meals, ready-to-eat meals and snack foods.

Below are some other ways you can choose less processed foods:

  • Instead of flavoured yogurt, choose plain yogurt and add your own fruit
  • Instead of dry breakfast cereal, choose steel cut oats
  • Instead of battered fish, choose canned, fresh or frozen fish (without the batter)
  • Instead of french fries, choose a baked potato or sweet potato

For more information on how to follow a healthy diet, check out Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

Sources: Canadian Cancer Society, Eat Right Ontario, American Institute for Cancer Research ​


Last reviewed: 10/24/2023
Last modified: 10/25/2023 9:29 AM
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