Life is hard, food should be easy.
Learn which nutrient-packed foods may help cut your cancer risk.
Vitamin C — an antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, oranges, bell peppers, and broccoli — helps to prevent the formation of cancer-causing nitrogen compounds. Diets high in vitamin C have been linked to a reduced risk of cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, bladder, breast, and cervix. These results are specific to vitamin C-rich foods, rather than supplements, which seem less reliable. So be sure to pile fruits and veggies on your plate – they’re excellent for your body in so many ways!
Pomegranates are chock full of ellagic acid — the latest phytonutrient to enter the scene (although it’s been quietly hanging out in berries, nuts, and pomegranates for millennia). In laboratory and animal studies, ellagic acid has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and deactivate cancer-causing compounds. To take advantage of these health properties, incorporate pomegranate seeds into smoothies or use them to top off a bowl of yogurt or cereal. Other foods rich in ellagic acid include raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, walnuts, pecans, cranberries, and grapes (red, black, purple).
All plant foods — grains, fruits, and vegetables — contain small amounts of phytonutrients: naturally occurring chemical compounds that are just as important as vitamins and minerals are for maintaining health. There are thousands of known phytonutrients, many of which have demonstrated the potential to protect us against cancer. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage contain phytonutrients known as glucosinolates, which may help inhibit the metabolism of some carcinogens and stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes.
Tea contains compounds called catechins, compounds that scientists theorize may help stop the growth of cancer cells and prevent cellular mutations that contribute to cancer development. In Japan, where tea is the preferred beverage, green tea consumption has been linked to reduced risk of stomach cancer among women. In China, green tea drinkers were found to have a lower risk of developing rectal and pancreatic cancers compared with non-tea drinkers. Regular tea drinkers have also been shown to be at reduced risk for colon, breast, ovarian, prostate, and lung cancers. All types of tea — green, black, white, oolong — seem to have value as cancer preventive agents, so regularly drink tea and enjoy a variety of flavors to reap all the benefits!
Turmeric is the yellow-colored spice found in curry powder. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, functions as both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and it may help prevent cancer by interfering with aspects of cellular signaling. In laboratory animals, curcumin has been shown to help prevent cancer of the breast, colon, stomach, liver, and lung. Using curry powder to spice up chicken and egg dishes is an easy way to incorporate it into your diet — and it has the added bonus of adding flavor to your meals, without any calories!
Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent cancer by inhibiting cancer cell proliferation and disrupting steps that are critical to tumor growth. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce inflammation, which means they could theoretically reduce the possibility of cellular mutations. But even if omega-3s don’t directly reduce the risk of cancer, they certainly help keep our bodies strong and healthy. For all of these reasons, I highly recommend adding omega-3–rich foods to your diet. In addition to fatty fish and shellfish, mixing ground flaxseed into yogurt and smoothies is an excellent way to include more omega-3s in your diet.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to several cancers, including colon and breast. Scientists theorize that vitamin D may help block the development of blood vessels that feed growing tumors and help stop the proliferation of cancerous and precancerous cells. To cover your bases, I recommend eating plenty of vitamin D–rich foods, such as wild salmon, and choosing vitamin D–fortified dairy products, like milk and yogurt. Because so few foods provide vitamin D, you should consider a daily multivitamin or separate supplement that provides 800 to 1,000 IUs of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, the most potent form).
Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in beta-carotene — found primarily in orange vegetables and leafy greens — have a reduced risk of cancer, particularly of the lung, colon, and stomach. Among premenopausal women, one study found that eating a lot of vegetables that include beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C, and fiber – like sweet potatoes — reduced the risk of breast cancer by about half.
Of all the fruits and vegetables studied, berries rank among the most likely to reduce cancer risk. Every year, we learn more and more about the benefits of these nutrition powerhouse fruits. Raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries, in particular, have shown very promising potential to help prevent cancer. An antioxidant called pterostilbene, found in high quantities in blueberries, has cancer-fighting properties and cranberries contain a whole drugstore’s worth of cancer-fighting natural chemicals. Laboratory animals fed black raspberries had a 60 percent reduction in tumors of the esophagus and an 80 percent reduction in colon tumors. Next time you want a sweet treat, skip the cookies and feast on juicy, delicious berries that can boost your health.
Some research shows that eating a vitamin E–rich diet reduces the risk of stomach, colon, lung, liver, and other cancers, but, as with other antioxidants, vitamin E supplements have largely struck out. I recommend adding vitamin E–rich foods like spinach to your diet; it will help keep your cells’ defenses strong. A cup of cooked spinach delivers nearly a third of your daily requirement (15 mg) of the vitamin. Cooked contains more vitamin E (and other nutrients) than raw simply because it’s more condensed—it shrinks when it’s cooked. Enjoy it sautéed, boiled or steamed as a delicious side dish to grilled fish or chicken. Or toss a handful into an omelet to get a healthy head start to your day.
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Life is hard, food should be easy.