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  • Food for thought: fact or fiction

    17 December 2019

    It’s often hard to determine fact from fiction when it comes to your health, wellbeing and cancer risk. Have you ever asked: will this cause cancer? Should I follow a special diet? Am I supposed to be using supplements? Rest assured these are all common questions, and ones we can answer.

    Cancer Council SA is a great place to turn to for answers to these questions as our dedicated researchers are guaranteed to provide evidenced based information you can trust.

    So, we thought we’d give you the truth about some common cancer questions:

    • Should I follow a strict diet or eliminate foods?

    Some people suggest that following specific diets or avoiding certain foods will help to treat or even cure cancer, but there is no credible evidence to support this claim.

    It is important that people undergoing cancer treatment eat a well-balanced diet that provides adequate protein, energy and micronutrients to maintain weight throughout cancer treatment.

    There is no special diet that can ‘cure cancer’ and there is little evidence that following a strict diet will have any added benefit.

    Some diets suggest people avoid certain food groups entirely (e.g. animal products)—which is not necessary nor evidence-based. This can be quite restrictive for people undergoing cancer treatment who require flexibility with food choices to obtain the nutrition they need.

    • Do I need take a supplement?

    There is some evidence that foods with high levels of antioxidants—such as fruit and vegetables—offer a protective effect against certain cancers.

    People who eat recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables have been shown to be at lower risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach and bowel. Fruit may also help protect against lung cancer.

    However, this has not been shown with antioxidants in concentrated forms e.g. supplements. For people undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments, such supplements may be harmful.

    If you are having cancer treatment, talk to your doctor about any supplements or other medications you are taking or thinking about taking.

    • Does turmeric prevent cancer growth?

    Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian cooking that comes from a root or rhizome, and its main ingredient is curcumin. Laboratory studies on cancer cells have found curcumin slows down their growth and some animal studies have also shown it to slow the growth and spread of cancers.

    Clinical trials are underway to find out if it can help humans as well, but as yet we do not have enough evidence of the effect in humans. One problem is that not much curcumin is absorbed into our body when we eat turmeric. While we know that it is safe to use in cooking in small amounts, we don’t know much about the side-effects of consuming it in large amounts to treat or prevent cancer.

    More research is needed to establish the safety of turmeric when used in herbal remedies. As always, you should talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements you are considering taking.


    Remember—when it comes to diet, there are steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk, but there is no one food that can protect against cancer. A healthy, balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from the five food groups is always best.

    For more answers like this head to iheard where experts will answer any question you may have; or call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and speak to one of our qualified cancer nurses.

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