Did you know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important way to protect yourself from cancer? Putting the right kinds of food into your body can provide you with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep you healthy and strong. To help build your defense against cancer, focus on eating some of these cancer-fighting foods that may already be in your kitchen.
Foods That Help Fight Cancer
The National Cancer Institute does not recommend any dietary supplement for the prevention or treatment of cancer. However these foods have shown potential for reducing the risk of developing cancer due to their cancer-fighting properties.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, while remaining very low in calories, sodium, and fat. Greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce, are known to combat a variety of cancers including skin cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, and breast cancer. Because they are also rich in carotenoids, the plant pigments that act as antioxidants in the body, leafy greens are also thought to be good at battling cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, radishes, and even wasabi, contain fiber, folate and vitamins C, E, and K. They also get their strong smell and bitter flavor from substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals. Adding vegetables like these to your diet can help boost your body's protective enzymes and flush out cancer-causing chemicals.
Cruciferous veggies are considered to be most useful in reducing the risk of developing bladder cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, prostate, skin cancer, and breast cancer.
Garlic is a staple ingredient that has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes around the world. Protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death. Garlic is most useful in fighting against breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, and stomach cancer.
Most people take garlic in the form of a supplement rather than eating bulbs of garlic. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines for general health promotion for adults is one of the following:
- a daily dose of 2 to 5 g of fresh garlic (approximately one clove)
- 0.4 to 1.2 g of dried garlic powder
- 2 to 5 mg of garlic oil
- 300 to 1,000 mg of garlic extract
- or other formulations that are equal to 2 to 5 mg of allicin
While tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, it’s the lycopene, the pigment that gives red tomatoes their color, that has been studied for its cancer-fighting effects. Antioxidants, such as lycopene, destroy damaging free radicals, which can attach your your cells and hurt your immune system. Although the evidence suggests that foods containing lycopene, including tomatoes, likely offer cancer protection, the American Institute for Cancer Research stresses the importance of eating a variety of plant foods. No single food can effectively lower cancer risk, so it is important to eat a variety of healthy foods so you can gain the most benefit in fighting cancer.
Lycopene in tomatoes is believe to be most helpful in fighting endometrial cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer.
Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and berries of every color are good sources of vitamin C and fiber. They are also rich in antioxidants and ellagic acid, which help block free radicals and deactivate specific carcinogens (cancer causing agents) that can lead to cancer growth. Berries have been found to be useful in fighting colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, skin cancer, and oral cancer.
These are just a handful of foods that will help you maintain an overall healthy diet which is recommended to fight cancer. To learn more about what foods make for healthy choices, you can visit the American Cancer Society’s Basic Ingredients for a Healthy Kitchen. Consume all things in moderation, even healthy foods, and include a wide variety of healthy foods in your daily intake, not just those listed here.
Foods That Can Cause Cancer
Not all meats and dairy products are bad for you, however, the ones that contain saturated fats can be. Consider choosing low-fat versions of meats and cheeses, and steer clear of processed meats whenever you can which tend to be higher in fat, nitrates and other preservatives.
The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s beer, wine, or spirits--too much alcohol can impair your body's ability to fight disease. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two drinks per day. Excessive alcohol consumption can put you at an increased risk of mouth cancer, esophagus cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer.
When high-temperature methods, such as grilling, are used to cook meats like beef, pork, fish, and poultry, certain DNA-damaging chemicals, called HCAs and PAHs can form. Although it is still unclear whether such exposure causes cancer in humans, the cancer that it has been found to cause in animals indicates that it may be best to avoid foods that are highly charred (black from heat exposure).
There are many other foods that researchers are still studying to determine whether they may contribute to the development of cancer or help reduce your risk of cancer. If you have questions regarding how to prevent cancer, it’s best to consult your doctor. The team at Maryland Oncology Hematology is always ready to help patients find healthy food options they can enjoy both now and after cancer treatment. For more information, contact us, or visit us at one of our 11 locations including Bethesda, Brandywine, Clinton, Columbia, Frederick, Lanham, Laurel, Mt. Airy, Rockville, Silver Spring, and Wheaton.
For more information on cancer prevention you can visit the following blogs:
- February is Cancer Prevention Month
- Avoiding Risk Factors and Increasing Protective Factors May Help Prevent Prostate Cancer
- Skin Cancer Prevention: The ABCs of SPFs
- Alcohol and Its Link to Cancer
- 5 Things You Can Do to Prevent Cervical Cancer
- American Institute for Cancer Research: http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/
- Health.com: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20430736,00.html#broccoli-1
- National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet