Fruit, vegetables and cancer prevention

Fruit and vegetables may protect against cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach and bowel. Fruit may also protect against lung cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy balanced diet. They are a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables also contain natural protective substances, such as antioxidants, that can destroy cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and cancer cells. However fruit and vegetables are probably most useful in helping to maintain a healthy body weight. This is because fruits and vegetables are low in energy (kilojoules or calories) and high in fibre, which helps us to feel fuller and may help us eat less. Overweight and obesity is a strong risk factor for some types of cancer – bowel, oesophagus, kidney, pancreas, endometrium (lining of the womb) and post menopausal breast.

How much should I eat in a day?
At least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day are recommended for good health and to reduce cancer risk.

What is a serve of vegetables?

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup of salad
  • ½ cup legumes e.g. soy beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans
  • ½ medium potato

What is a serve of fruit?

  • 1 medium sized piece of fruit e.g. apple, pear, orange, banana
  • 2 small pieces of fruit e.g. apricots, plums, kiwifruit
  • 1 cup fruit salad or canned fruit pieces
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of sultanas or other dried fruit
  • ½ cup (125mL) of unsweetened juice

Tips for increasing your daily fruit and vegetable intake

  • Shop for fresh fruit and vegetables weekly to ensure you have a fresh supply.
  • Enjoy fruit as a snack or for dessert.
  • Add fresh or canned fruit as a topping on breakfast cereal.
  • Fill half your dinner plate with vegetables.
  • Include at least three different coloured vegetables with your main meal.
  • For interest and variety, cook vegetables in different ways e.g. oven roasted, grilled or barbequed.
  • Include salad with lunch or choose dishes which include plenty of vegetables.
  • Use frozen, dried or canned vegetables and fruit if fresh is not available.
  • Adapt your recipes to include more vegetables, (e.g. add carrot, celery and peas to Bolognese sauce).

Are some fruits and vegetables better than others?
Different types of fruits and vegetables contain cancer fighting substances that protect in different ways, so you should eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables each day.

Consumption of both cooked and raw vegetables is recommended.

Organic fruit and vegetables do not appear to protect against cancer more than conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. The consumption of organic fruit and vegetables is an individual choice.

Are nutritional supplements a good alternative?
Scientists are still discovering the many beneficial protective substances found in vegetables and fruit, so a tablet cannot possibly replace the real thing. Be careful taking vitamins as some are toxic in large doses. It is best to obtain vitamins and minerals naturally by eating a balanced diet that includes at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit daily.

See the  Fruit, Vegetables and Cancer Position Statement for more information.