NewsOncology NutritionPreventative nutrition and health

Somewhere over the rainbow…Raising awareness on cancer nutrition

Here’s why we should focus on eating MORE rather than eating less. And make it colourful!

‘Every 4 minutes another Australian is diagnosed with Cancer’ – Cancer Council Daffodil Day 2020

There are 1440 minutes in a day, which means that every single day 360 Australians are diagnosed with cancer.  

In 4-minutes you could soft boil an egg, sautée a bunch of mushrooms or steam some broccoli florets. Some people can even hold a rock-solid plank for that long!

So… what does eating colours have to do with that?

One of the ten recommendations by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is to make whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans (legumes) the focus of your diet. You can check out all ten recommendations on their website here

Many cancers are related to lifestyle factors, such as a diet high in saturated and trans fats, loaded with excess salt, and too few fruits and vegetables (1). 

Studies have shown that polyphenols (substances that give fruits and vegetables their beautifully unique colours) play a role in reducing the rise of several forms of cancer (2-5). 

Here is a list of some of the common polyphenols that have been researched extensively due to their preventative cancer properties, and a highlight food that provides a rich source. 

  • Lycopene – Tomatoes (Red)                                                   
  • Carotenoids – Carrots (Orange)
  • Hesperidin- Lemons (Yellow)                                                  
  • Kaempferol – Broccoli (Green)
  • Catechins – Blueberries (Blue)                                                 
  • Anthocyanin – Eggplant (purple)


While eating your fruit and veg may seem easy, you may be surprised that only 5.4% of Australian adults are meeting the recommended 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables each day (6). 

For some, this may seem like a big increase that could only be achieved by consuming bucket loads of kale or succumbing to the cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles trends, we can assure you it is possible! A serving of vegetables is the equivalent of half a medium sized sweet potato or one cup of raw salad mix. All you need to do is add a handful of spinach to your fruit smoothie in the morning, munch on a carrot with some hummus for morning tea or use that packet of frozen peas that’s been patiently waiting for you in a warming soup. 

One of our go-to mid-week meals is a simple stir-fry or pasta  loaded up with as many veggies as possible, fresh or frozen. The more colours, the better. 

So you’re all in on the rainbow. But is that all you need to focus on? Short answer, no. While veg and fruit should make up the majority of your diet, there are a bunch of other heroes we shouldn’t neglect in the pursuit of optimal health.

Along with the marvellous polyphenols comes fibre. You should be aiming for 25-30g every day  (which you can nail with just half a cup of red kidney beans). 

Fibre is the indigestible part of the plant; it goes through our digestive system and comes out the other end, doing plenty of good stuff along the way! Fibre is protective against colorectal (bowel) cancer and breast cancer (7,8).

If you are eating your fruits and veg as well as some whole grains, you will have no problem consuming ample fibre. If you do struggle to get enough fibre in each day, legumes, beans and pulses can come to the rescue. A vegetarian spag bol that subs some (or all!) mince for legumes is delicious and cheap. Throw in some kale, zucchini, carrot or mushrooms and you’ve got a polyphenol-loaded dinner too. 

Wholegrain carbohydrates may be particularly protective against gastric and colon cancer, as well as breast and prostate cancer (9). They contain fibre and micronutrients (due to being less processed than refined, white carbs) that support our health. 

When selecting your grains, check the back of the packet for the ingredients, and look for words such as whole grain, whole wheat, wholemeal and specific grain such as quinoa, spelt, freekeh or buckwheat. The closer it is to its natural state, the less refined it is likely to be.

The exception to eating more – what to eat less of

Eating too much processed and fast foods contributes to the risk of many types of cancer (10). Saturated and trans fats go through a process in the body called oxidation. This promotes an inflammatory environment that increases cancer risk (11). Processed and fast foods, usually high in saturated or trans fats, usually have negligible nutritional value, so focus on loading up your plate with the good guys and save the processed foods for less often.

To sum it all up…

There’s an abundance of anti-cancer nutrients available to you, probably already in your kitchen or pantry! Creating a polyphenol rich diet is as easy as looking ‘somewhere over the rainbow’! When preparing a meal for yourself/and family, ask yourself, does this have enough colours in it? Is it all one colour or can I add something green/red/orange/yellow/purple? Your meal doesn’t always need to look like a painter’s palette, aim for an artistic day or week for nutrient variety. 

By adding vibrancy in the form of food you may be protecting yourself from developing cancer. Take pride in that. It’s important to remember that the closer something is to its natural state, the more nutrients you’ll get out of it. That’s why we always recommend fruits and vegetables! 

We’re here if you need us. Don’t hesitate to reach out.  

This article was written by Michelle Verstandiker, OnCore Nutrition volunteer, with support of Lauren Atkins AdvAPD.

Related Articles

Fertility Nutrition
Pregnancy Nutrition

New Articles