Effects of alcohol

Diet, Alcohol and Cancer

You can avoid the risks of developing cancer by exercising regularly.

You can avoid the risks of developing cancer by exercising regularly, making smart eating choices, limiting alcohol intake, reducing sun exposure, avoiding tobacco and adopting other healthy lifestyle habits.

Alcohol may also be linked to other types of cancer including oral, lung, stomach, pancreatic and endometrial cancer.

The United States National Toxicology Programme (NTP) studies found that the risk of cancer related to alcohol consumption is most pronounced among smokers at the highest levels of consumption. 

You can avoid the risks of developing cancer by exercising regularly, making smart eating choices, limiting alcohol intake, reducing sun exposure, avoiding tobacco and adopting other healthy lifestyle habits.

Other types of cancers can be caused by our genetic make-up, what we eat and drink, the lifestyle choices we make, hormones, radiation, stress, lack of social support and the environment in which we live and work among others.

But the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organisation, has concluded that cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectal and breast are caused by alcohol consumption.

“Experts estimate that up to 40% of cancers can be prevented. The risks of developing cancer can be significantly reduced through vaccination, getting regular exercise, making smart eating choices, limiting alcohol intake, reducing sun exposure and avoiding tobacco,” says Sue Janse van Rensburg, CANSA Chief Executive Officer and survivor for 29 years.

“Ninety percent of cancers are caused by the environment, and only 10% through hereditary factors. By making smart choices you can embrace a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Smoking, for example, is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world, with over 44 000 South Africans dying from tobacco-related diseases each year,” she added.

Van Rensburg dismissed the myth that ‘Cancer is a death sentence’ saying many cancers that were once considered a death sentence – can now be treated and managed more effectively and even be cured. Cancer can be prevented and treated more effectively if diagnosed early. Be sure to make smart choices and go for regular screening,” she advised.

For any health benefits you should look to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.

Everyone’s health circumstances are different. You should talk to your doctor if you have any questions about the health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption.


Prevention is the best cure and here are some eating tips for you:

  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables each day (at least five portions).
  • Choose a variety of fruit and vegetables of different colours for different nutrients.
  • Eat more fibre, e.g. fruit and vegetables with skins included and whole-grain foods such as Bokomo Weet-Bix and Bokomo Oats (both CANSA Smart Choices) mealie pap, brown rice and sorghum.
  • Limit meat and rather eat more fish, beans, lentils and soya products.
  • Avoid food that is fatty, sugary and salty such as chips, potato crisps, sweets and fast foods.
  • Limit your intake of processed, cured and smoked foods such as biltong, bacon, polony, ham, russians and vienna sausages (linked to colon cancer).
  • Choose low-fat milk and hormone-free dairy products e.g. Fair Cape Free Range Rooibos Yoghurt – a CANSA Smart Choice (CANSA’s Seal of Recognition).
  • Use canola oil with a high smoke point of 230 Celcius in all food preparation. It is rich in Omega-3 and has the best ratio (2:1) of the Omegas-6 to 3. (Be Well and Continental Canola Oil are also CANSA Smart Choices.)
  • Choose canola margarine products (a CANSA Smart Choice), also with the best ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 and it is trans fat free.
  • Check labels of processed foods like confectionaries for trans fat contents (trans fats are restricted to less than 2% by law).
  • Aim for three meals per day and snack in between meals on your favourite fruit or vegetable.

Cooking Tips:

  • Eat raw fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Prepare your food by baking or steaming using a Russell Hobbs Steamer (a CANSA Smart Choice).
  • Cut down on frying and braaing. Cooking oil should not be re-used. If you braai, limit this to twice a week, cut off excess fat, keep the grill 12 cm above the coals. Never eat burnt meat (linked to colon cancer). Consider braaing in foil.
  • Store food with care - use clingwrap free of harmful plasticisers, e.g. in-house products of Checkers, Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Spar as well as the brand name product, GLAD Wrap (a CANSA Smart Choice)

Drinking Tips:

  • Drink 30 ml of liquid per kilogram of body weight per day, 60% of which should be water. Drinking enough water not only keeps you hydrated, it also helps food move through the digestive system and carries nutrients to the cells.
  • Alcohol (like tobacco) is linked to an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, liver, breast, prostate, colon and rectum. Limit alcohol to one standard drink a day.
  • Avoid fizzy sweetened drinks.
  • If you have fruit juice, drink unsweetened pure juice and dilute with water.
  • Drink rooibos tea, which is rich in antioxidants, low in tannin and caffeine free.

For more information on CANSA contact: 0800 22 66 22 (toll-free) or 011 616 7662 (08h00 to 16h30 weekdays) Email: info@cansa.org.za