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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:

Does eating too much red meat give you cancer?

There is convincing evidence that red meat and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer and the more you eat, the higher the risk.

Cancer Council recommends that you:

  • Limit lean red meat intake to a palm-sized serve up to three or four times a week (no more than 455 g cooked/700 g raw per week).
  • Limit or avoid eating processed meats like frankfurts, salami, bacon and ham.
  • Limit consumption of burnt or charred meat.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and chicken, and eat more fish and plenty of plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans and wholegrain cereals.

Despite concerns about red meat and cancer, Cancer Council recognises that lean red meat is an important contributor to dietary iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein.

Should I eat organic food?

Insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption is estimated to cause around 1,800 cancer cases in Australia each year. There is no evidence that organic produce is higher in the nutrients that help to prevent cancer than fruit and vegetables farmed in conventional ways.

People may choose to eat organic foods for a number of reasons—taste, environmental factors, reported health benefits or personal preference. However, organic food is generally more expensive than other fruit and vegetables which may be a barrier for some.

Cancer Council recommends that people aim to have two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day. This will not only help to reduce your risk of cancers associated with low fruit and vegetable intake, it will also help to reduce your risk of cancers caused by high body mass, much of which is related to poor nutrition, and which are diagnosed in around 4,000 Australians each year.

So, whether organic or not, aim for two and five. If you are worried about pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables, wash them before eating.

Can artificial sweeteners cause cancer?

Artificial sweeteners are used as a replacement for sugar in food and drinks, as they are very sweet and contain fewer kilojoules (energy). There are several types of artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose, cyclamate and saccharin.

The evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners (saccharin and cyclamate) found in ‘diet’ drinks and some foods are unlikely to cause cancer. Saccharin is used in tablets that substitute for sugar and is sometimes contained in diet soft drinks from fountain dispensers to help extend shelf life.

In rats, high doses of saccharin have been shown to cause the formation of bladder stones that can lead to bladder cancer. However, saccharin consumption does not appear to cause the formation of bladder stones in humans. If saccharin does increase cancer risk in humans, it would be at doses many times greater than amounts typically consumed.

Large population studies have not reported increases in bladder cancers among people using saccharin, and the US National Toxicology Program has removed it from the list of established human carcinogens. In Australia, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) sets acceptable levels for all types of additives including artificial sweeteners. These levels are regularly reviewed and adjusted by FSANZ as required.

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.

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