Staying healthy

For most people a healthy diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables, some starchy foods, such as potatoes, some meat or fish, some dairy products, and a little fat, salt and sugar. Drinking plenty of water also helps. Talk to a dietitian or your doctor before you make any changes to your diet as they may be able to offer some advice.

You should speak to your doctor if you are worried about being overweight or underweight. Some cancer treatments may make you put on weight. You can try to make small changes to lose weight, such as eating healthily or being more active.

Some people on a diet may not stick to it all the time. This is normal. If you are generally eating healthy food it is fine to have the occasional treat. This can make it easier to socialise and go out for dinner.

A healthy eating guide

For most people, a daily balanced diet includes:

  • lots of fruit and vegetables
  • plenty of starchy foods (carbohydrates), such as bread, rice, pasta, noodles, couscous and potatoes
  • some protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and pulses (beans and lentils)
  • some milk and dairy foods, such as cheese, yoghurt and cream
  • just a small amount of food high in fat, salt and sugar

Drinks should mainly be water, tea and coffee (without sugar), or sugar-free drinks such as fizzy drinks, colas and squashes.

We have more information about alcoholic drinks.

The diagram below shows how much of each type of food you should try to eat.

Food groups
Food groups

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Keeping to a healthy weight

It's not good to be either underweight or overweight. Eating too much can make you overweight, which can lead to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Not eating as much food as your body needs can also affect your health.

If you're underweight, or find it difficult to eat enough to maintain your weight, you can find helpful advice in our sections The building-up diet and Recipes.

Many people in the UK are heavier than the recommended weight for their height. And unfortunately, certain types of treatment for cancer, such as hormonal therapies or steroids, can cause weight gain. Losing weight can be difficult, but keeping a healthy body weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer. We have more information and advice about managing your weight.

Being overweight increases the risk of many types of cancer, including cancers of the bowel, kidney, womb, and gullet (oesophagus). Women who are overweight and have been through the menopause are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

There's also evidence that women who have breast cancer after the menopause may be able to reduce their risk of the cancer returning by keeping to a healthy body weight after treatment.

Try to keep your weight within the normal range for your height. Your GP can advise you on your ideal weight. If you're concerned about your weight, get in touch with your GP or a dietitian for advice and support.

Be patient with yourself. Losing weight is a gradual process. It’s important to eat a balanced diet to make sure you get all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy. It’s reasonable to aim to lose about 0.5–1kg (1–2lbs) a week.

What you can do to keep to a healthy weight:

  • Only eat as much food as you need according to how active you are. You may need to discuss your needs with a dietitian.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, and less fat and sugar.
  • Be more physically active.

You can read more about physical activity and cancer treatment, or order our Move more information to find out more about how to be more active and the benefits of doing so.

Chicken, sweetcorn and noodle soup

A healthy view on food

Food doesn’t just give us what we need to keep our bodies healthy and energised. Food is an important part of our social lives too, whether we’re spending time with family and friends at meals and barbecues, or celebrating with treats like cakes. Sometimes we eat a favourite food to reward ourselves.

Even when you’ve successfully changed to a more balanced diet, you may not always feel like sticking strictly to it. This is normal for all of us. Everyone enjoys having an occasional treat or enjoying a meal out. You could maybe try having a smaller portion than you’d normally have. But if you’re eating well most of the time, you can allow yourself less healthy foods occasionally.

Another idea is to have one ‘free’ day a week, when you eat whatever you want. You may quickly find that the healthier you eat, the less you crave the so-called ‘forbidden foods’. Your idea of treats may also change to healthier options.

‘I try and have five portions of fruit and veg a day and wholemeal bread and things like that. But I eat meat. I use butter. I drink alcohol. And I aim to do those things in moderation.’


Back to Healthy eating

Diet and cancer

Keeping to a healthy weight and maintaining a balanced diet can help reduce the risk of developing some cancers.

How to eat healthily

Knowing about food types and limiting your alcohol intake can help you maintain a healthy diet.