High-calorie foods and cancer prevention

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

It’s no surprise that foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar tend to be high in calories.

Eating too much of these foods or drinking a lot of sugary drinks can mean you’re more likely to gain weight because it’s easy to take in a lot of calories in quite a small amount of food.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of several types of cancer.

So, it’s a good idea to base your diet on unprocessed foods like vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit – these foods are nutritious, filling and can help you stay a healthy weight.

What’s the link between high-calorie foods and cancer risk?

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

These foods can increase your cancer risk because you’re more likely to be overweight or obese if you eat a lot of them.

Although you might have heard that sugar or fat is directly linked to some cancers, this isn’t the case. The main reason for cutting back on these foods is because they’re linked to weight gain.

What about sugary drinks and cancer risk?

There is lots of strong evidence that sugary drinks are not good for you when it comes to managing your weight. Sugary drinks include things like:

  • Regular cola, lemonade and other soft drinks sweetened with sugar
  • Energy drinks
  • Squashes
  • Milkshakes and frappes

Natural fruit juice also contains a lot of sugar, so it's best not to drink more than one glass a day.

Fruit juice does count as one of our recommended 5 A DAY portions of vegetables and fruits, but it only counts once a day no matter how much you drink.

Sugary drinks are easy to drink in large quantities and are often available in 'super-sized' portions, but they don't really fill you up even though they are quite high in calories.

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. Instead try to base your meals on vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit.

  • Swap sugary drinks

It’s a good idea to stick to water or unsweetened tea or coffee whenever you can. There’s no strong evidence to link artificially sweetened drinks to cancer either, so diet drinks can be a good alternative too.