By Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN.
The top 12 most researched cancer fighting foods are in your grocery store. That’s right. There are foods you can buy today that will satisfy your family and fight cancer, too!
There is no magic food. I’ve been working with cancer survivors for many years, and I wish there were. However, nutrition plays a major role in cancer prevention, and in promoting healthy living.
In fact, up to 40% of cancers in the U.S. can be prevented if people eat healthy (4 cups or more of fruits and vegetables) and exercise 30 minutes daily.
That’s a big deal! Even more surprising, these foods are found where you grocery shop, and can be grown in your yard.
How Do Plant Foods Prevent or Control Cancer?
Science suggests that the combination of nutrient dense foods in a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial in fighting cancer at various stages of growth. The vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (“cancer fighters”) in plant foods interact with each other to promote health.
This idea is called “synergy,” the interaction of different nutrients actually multiply their beneficial effects. That makes eating real foods more powerful than taking a nutrient supplement!
If you’ve never heard of them, phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that provide plants with color, smell and flavor. They also protect the plant from harm. Once we eat those phytochemicals, research shows they can influence the chemical processes inside our bodies in a variety of beneficial ways.
There are more than 900 different phytochemicals discovered so far and you may recognize some of them. In fact, all antioxidants are phytochemicals.
Here are a few more common ones:
– beta carotene
Which Foods are the Best Cancer Fighters?
Here are the top 12 most researched foods when it comes to cancer and nutrition. They are the basis for your cancer fighting, plant-based diet.
Beans – Including legumes like black-eyed peas, black beans and kidney beans. Phytic acid, a phytochemical in beans, has shown the ability to significantly slow the progression of tumors.
Berries – All types of berries count. Blueberries have received a lot of attention lately because they are a good source of the most powerful antioxidant, called anthocyanosides.
Cruciferous Vegetables – Including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale. Research on cruciferous vegetables highlights several components that have been linked to lower cancer risk.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables – This is a great time of year to eat the leafy greens since they are in season. Try this popular recipe for kale chips!
Flaxseed – Buy it ground (sold as flaxseed meal), or grind it in a coffee grinder before eating. It’s great in baking, on cereal or added to yogurt or smoothies.
Garlic – Garlic belongs to the family of vegetables which also includes onions, scallions, leeks and chives.
Grapes and Grape Juice – It’s the skin of the grape that has resveratrol, the phytochemical that makes red wine healthy. But you don’t have to drink alcohol to get the benefits. Eat grapes, especially concord grapes, muscodines and suppernog grapes.
Green Tea – Brew it yourself for the most benefit. Tea is the best source of the phytochemical called catechins. Green tea contains about three times the quantity of catechins found in black tea.
Soy – Soybeans are a type of bean. Foods made from soybeans include tofu, soymilk, soybeans, soynuts, miso (soy paste), tempeh, soy burgers and soynut butter. Scientists believe that several active ingredients in soy may have anti-cancer effects.
Tomatoes – The tomato’s red hue comes from a phytochemical, called lycopene. A recent expert report found convincing evidence that foods containing lycopene probably protect against prostate cancer.
Whole Grains – Include brown rice, whole wheat breads and cereals, popcorn, oatmeal, barley and many others. Research shows whole grains contain several nutrients that have been linked to lower cancer risk, including antioxidants.
Apples – This is the most recent food to be added to the list. The bulk of the phytochemicals are concentrated in the skin, so make sure to eat the whole apple. The flesh has a healthy fiber called pectin that’s good for you, too.
The bottom line? Like moms everywhere have always said, “eat your vegetables!”
Julie is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition, and is the wellness director at Cancer Services, Inc. in Winston-Salem.