Have you or one of your loved ones had a brush with cancer? The uncertainty and sheer enormity of it can be overwhelming. But did you know that the risk of cancer can be eased by adding cancer-busting foods to your diet?
According to the WHO, diet plays a major role in cancer. As much as a third of all cancer-linked deaths are because of dietary and behavioral risks – in other words, things that you can control! The food you eat especially is something you have total power over. Upping your intake of certain vegetables and fruits not only helps with overall immunity but can specifically take on tumor cells.1
Do keep one thing in mind, however – while these foods can help lower your risk of developing certain cancers or slow the progress of cancers already present, they are neither a substitute for mainstream treatment nor a guaranteed preventive measure. They do, however, improve your odds, making them well worth adding to your grocery basket.
Garlic from the allium family can lower your chances of developing cancer, besides also helping slow progress of certain cancers already in the body. The vegetable offers this protective effect due to the presence of organosulfur compounds that can stop or slow tumor growth. It is especially useful for cancers of the colon, stomach tissue, bladder, and prostate. Additionally, the diallyl disulfide in garlic can prevent lung, skin, and colon cancers. Laboratory studies have also found that the diallyl disulfide and ajoene from garlic can help act against leukemia cells.2 Other animal studies show its effectiveness against cancers of the breast and esophagus as well.3
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Eating your greens has never been more important than when you’re trying to fight a battle against cancer. Folate-rich dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, bok choy, and turnip greens pack in that precious folate with cancer-fighting abilities. This nutrient is your line of defense against cancers of the colon, pancreas, and esophagus.4 Researchers found that test subjects taking 900 mcg (or more) of folate every day lowered their risk of even developing colorectal cancer more than those who only got in 200 mcg per day.5
Cruciferous vegetable broccoli is a must-have in your arsenal. Loaded with fiber that helps keep up good gut health, high consumption of this class of vegetables is linked with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, cancer of the prostate, and lung cancer. The isothiocyanates from broccoli including sulforaphane (a by-product of glucoraphanin hydrolyzation) have anti-carcinogenic potential. They are able to conduct the direct detoxication of cancer-causing carcinogens. Researchers suggest that 3 to 5 servings of broccoli (or cauliflower) a week should help prevent cancer. Further clinical study can help to firm up the exact quantity needed.6
Berries are a poster child for antioxidant power. With blueberries and cranberries both making it to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s shortlist of cancer-fighting foods, you have plenty of reason to add these to your menu plans.7 Studies have found that blueberries can fight cancer by preventing oxidative stress, inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecule production, and increasing apoptosis or cell death of cancer/tumor cells. The berries contain an abundance of phenolic compounds, including flavonoids that have antioxidant properties.8 Multiple animal studies have examined the benefits of blueberries in fighting breast cancer, esophageal, and colon cancers. However, human studies are limited, making it hard to pin down a specific quantity to be consumed.
Carrots and the juice from them may offer hope for those grappling with the devastating effects of leukemia. One study found that the falcarinol and falcarindiol-3 acetate, the polyacetylenes in carrots, help increase the death of cancerous cells.9 And it seems like there are benefits to eating all kinds of carrots, including the black ones. Black carrot tissue extracts showed promising anticancer activity in one study, leading the researchers to conclude that the vegetable had potential to treat brain cancer without causing damage to the surrounding tissue.10
6. Fatty Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish are already recommended for their anti-inflammatory potential and cardiovascular benefits. They are now emerging as a nutrient that can help fight cancer. These polyunsaturated fats are found in certain fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Researchers closely tracking the data on the incidence of cancer have found that high consumption of omega-3 fatty acids seems to be linked to lower risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Try and have a 3-ounce portion of any fatty fish you like a couple of times a week, to give yourself the benefit of this nutrient.11 If you’re vegan, you can get your omega-3 fatty acids from nuts, oils, and seeds.
Research has found that lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, can help prevent cancers of the prostate, stomach, and lung. Early signs also point to its potential in warding off cancers of the breast, pancreas, colon, rectum, cervix, and esophagus.12 A separate analysis on the effect of tomato sauce consumption also found that consuming this ingredient was linked to lower prostate cancer risk in Caucasian men and those who consumed a large quantity of tomatoes – like those with Southern European ancestry. Get in tomatoes every day, and try and have them cooked in tomato paste or as a juice too to pack in more nutrition.13
|↑1||Cancer Fact sheet N°297 February 2015, WHO.|
|↑2||Garlic, American Institute for Cancer Research.|
|↑3||Bianchini, Franca, and Harri Vainio. “Allium vegetables and organosulfur compounds: do they help prevent cancer?.” Environmental health perspectives 109, no. 9 (2001): 893.|
|↑4||Cancer Myths Exposed, AICR.|
|↑5||Gibson, Todd M., Stephanie J. Weinstein, Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Albert R. Hollenbeck, Amy F. Subar, Arthur Schatzkin, Susan T. Mayne, and Rachael Stolzenberg-Solomon. “Pre-and postfortification intake of folate and risk of colorectal cancer in a large prospective cohort study in the United States.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 94, no. 4 (2011): 1053-1062.|
|↑6||Herr, Ingrid, and Markus W. Büchler. “Dietary constituents of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables: implications for prevention and therapy of cancer.” Cancer treatment reviews 36, no. 5 (2010): 377-383.|
|↑7||Foods that fight cancer, American Institute for Cancer Research.|
|↑8||A Johnson, Sarah, and Bahram H Arjmandi. “Evidence for anti-cancer properties of blueberries: a mini-review.” Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Anti-Cancer Agents) 13, no. 8 (2013): 1142-1148.|
|↑9||Zaini, Rana, Malcolm R. Clench, and Christine L. Le Maitre. “Bioactive chemicals from carrot (Daucus carota) juice extracts for the treatment of leukemia.” Journal of medicinal food 14, no. 11 (2011): 1303-1312.|
|↑10||Sevimli-Gur, Canan, Burcu Cetin, Seref Akay, Sultan Gulce-Iz, and Ozlem Yesil-Celiktas. “Extracts from black carrot tissue culture as potent anticancer agents.” Plant foods for human nutrition 68, no. 3 (2013): 293-298.|
|↑11||How Omega-3 Fats May Protect against Cancer, American Institute for Cancer Research.|
|↑12||Giovannucci, Edward. “Tomatoes, tomato-based products, lycopene, and cancer: review of the epidemiologic literature.” Journal of the national cancer institute 91, no. 4 (1999): 317-331.|
|↑13||Tomatoes and prostate cancer, Harvard Health Publications.|