Top Cancer-Fighting Foods

According to the 2009 Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention report, roughly one third of the most common cancers are preventable through diet, physical activity, and weight maintenance. By making healthy lifestyle changes, the report says, Americans could prevent as many as 45 percent of colon cancers and 38 percent of breast cancer cases.

Diet and Cancer

No single food or food component can protect us from cancer. However, evidence shows that a diet filled with a variety of plant foods helps lower the risk for many cancers. Plants contain many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that demonstrate anti-cancer effects. Phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables), are biologically active plant substances we need to be healthy.

Top Cancer-Fighting Foods

Most unprocessed, plant-based foods contain disease-fighting components. However, these foods are particular standouts when it comes to cancer prevention.

  • Berries, especially blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries.
  • Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower (these in particular contain indole 3-carbinol, which converts cancer-promoting estrogen into a more productive variety), as well as brussel sprouts, rapini, and white turnips.
  • Kale, collards, and other dark, leafy greens.
  • Flaxseeds, which contain phytoestrogenic properties and mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
  • Legumes (such as brown, black, and kidney beans), nuts, and seeds.
  • Garlic, which increases activity of cancer-fighting immune cells and indirectly helps break down cancer-causing substances; onions, scallions, leeks, and chives are in the same vegetable family.
  • Soy, including tofu, edamame, soymilk, and miso.
  • Green tea, which contain flavonoids and polyphenols.
  • Spices and herbs, especially rosemary and turmeric,.

Other good cancer-preventing food choices include apples, cherries, grapefruit, figs, avocados, whole grains, grapes, grape juice, tomatoes, mushrooms, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, sea vegetables, and chili and jalapeño peppers.

Many of the nutrients in these foods, such as vitamins C and E, flavonoids, and polyphenols, also have crucial antioxidant properties. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation in cells (think rust on metal or the browning of a cut slice of apple), which can damage DNA and other cell structures. Shoot for moderate amounts of many antioxidants, rather than large amounts of any one or two.

Aim to fulfill two-thirds of your overall diet and protein sources from a wide variety of colorful fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. The brighter, bolder, and deeper the color of a food, the more vitamins and minerals it has.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE reviewed this article.




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