High-calorie foods and cancer prevention

Do foods and drinks high in fat and sugar increase cancer risk?

Eating too many high-calorie foods, particularly processed foods that are high in fat or sugar, increases our risk of becoming overweight or obese, which in turn increases our risk of many common cancers.

Reshaping your plate to include more wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses will keep you feeling fuller for longer on fewer calories, which can help you to maintain a healthy weight, reducing your cancer risk.

What are high-calorie foods?

High-calorie foods (also known as calorie-dense or energy-dense foods) include things like:

  • Chocolate
  • Crisps
  • Chips
  • Biscuits
  • Fast food, like burgers or fried chicken

Even small portions of these foods contain lots of calories and they are often low in the vital nutrients your body needs. As a guide, high-calorie foods contain more than about 225 calories (kcal) per 100g.

What about sugary drinks and cancer risk?

There is lots of strong evidence that sugary drinks can contribute to weight gain if consumed regularly or in large amounts, and being overweight or obese can increase cancer risk. Sugary drinks include things like:

  • Regular cola, lemonade and other soft drinks sweetened with sugar
  • Cordial and squashes like blackcurrant juice drink
  • Energy drinks
  • Milkshakes and frappes

Natural fruit juice is a source of healthy nutrients but also contains a lot of sugar and has lost most of the fibre you’d get by eating the whole fruit so it is best not to drink more than one glass (150ml) a day.

Similarly, milk provides nutrients like calcium, but also contains calories, so opt for unsweetened, skimmed or semi-skimmed versions.

Tips for cutting down on high-calorie foods and drinks

  • Watch out for processed foods

In general, the healthiest foods are those that haven’t been processed – this means they haven’t had extra sugar or fat added to them, and the fibre is more likely to still be intact. Instead try to base your meals on vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit.

  • Swap sugary drinks

Water is the best choice. Unsweetened tea and coffee with a splash of milk are also good options. Evidence shows there is no link between artificially sweetened drinks and cancer, so diet drinks can be a good alternative too.

  • Trim off the fat

When eating meat, trim off the fat or, better still, opt for skinless poultry (chicken or turkey), or white fish.