Research from several sources provides strong evidence that vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, dietary fibre, certain micronutrients, some fatty acids and physical activity protect against some cancers. In contrast, other factors, such as obesity, alcohol, some fatty acids and food preparation methods may increase risks. Unravelling the multitude of plausible mechanisms for the effects of dietary factors on cancer risk will likely necessitate that nutrition research moves beyond traditional epidemiological and metabolic studies. Nutritional sciences must build on recent advances in molecular biology and genetics to move the discipline from being largely 'observational' to focusing on 'cause and effect'. Such basic research is fundamental to cancer prevention strategies that incorporate effective dietary interventions for target populations.