Over one million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Some cancers can be caused by a genetic predisposition, while other cancers are due to environmental factors. Sometimes it’s a combination of both.
Cancer can form just about anywhere in the body and can affect vital organs. Some of the most common types of cancer include breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and skin cancer. Preventative measures to protect yourself from these and other types of cancer include annual physicals, monthly self-breast exams, quitting smoking, colonoscopies, and wearing sunscreen.
But what about an anti-cancer diet? Keep reading for the list of foods that fight cancer.
Foods That Fight Cancer
Diet and exercise play a vital role in defending your body against cancer. According to Dr. Richard Wender of The American Cancer Society, there are 90,000 cancer deaths each year that are related to weight issues such as obesity. In addition, being overweight increases the risk of 11 types of cancer including:
- Advanced prostate cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Postmenopausal breast cancer
- Stomach cancer
But controlling portions and getting active are only two pieces of the preventative puzzle. Dr. Wender states that the types of foods you eat play an equally important role to the amount of food you eat and the amount of regular exercise being done.
Foods to avoid include those with added sugar and those with high amounts of carbohydrates and fat that offer little to no nutritional value. Processed foods have also been implicated as cancer-causing culprits. Not only do processed foods often have high amounts of sugar and sodium added to them, but a study published in The British Medical Journal revealed that consumption of processed foods resulted in an increased risk of developing cancer, including breast cancer specifically.
The best anti-cancer diet is one that incorporates a lot of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables not only help with weight control, but they also have cancer-fighting properties.
Another study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that diets high in fiber reduce the risk of colorectal cancer specifically. Foods that fight colorectal cancer by adding fiber to your diet include blueberries, cherries, cranberries, dry beans and peas, flaxseed, whole grains, and cereals. But what makes these foods such great cancer fighters? Here’s the breakdown.
How Foods Fight Cancer
These anti-cancer fruits, vegetables, and other foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Vitamins and minerals are well-known contributors to a healthy body. But what about antioxidants and phytochemicals/phytonutrients? What are they and how do they contribute to the body’s ability to fight off cancer? We’re covering the science behind why fruits and vegetables are such cancer crushers.
Antioxidants are often thought of as nutrients that clean out the body by getting rid of the bad stuff. They disarm other potentially dangerous chemicals called free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to cells in the body, and, in doing so, may lead to the development of cancer. Antioxidants attack these dangerous free radicals, rendering them ineffective and thereby reducing the risk that the free radicals may lead to cell damage and cancer development.
While there’s nothing wrong with some supplement support, it is also important to get antioxidants from foods. Studies have shown dietary antioxidants impart a greater cancer-protective effect than antioxidant supplements do. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition revealed that common antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables that resulted in a reduced risk of cancer when added to the diet were associated with a higher risk of cancer when taken as a high-dose supplement. It’s important to note that this effect wasn’t demonstrated in the general population but in subjects who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute cites several clinical trials that have demonstrated mixed results as to whether antioxidant supplements help prevent cancer. So it’s important to add antioxidants to your diet rather than relying solely on antioxidant supplements. Foods high in antioxidants include:
- Grape juice
- Green tea
- Soybeans and soy products (tempeh, edamame, etc.)
- Whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)
Inflammation is what happens when tissue or muscles become swollen due to injury or illness. A study published in Nature International Journal of Science examined the established relationship between inflammation and the progression of tumors and cancer development. Long-term inflammation can lead to the damage of cells as well as to the rapid reproduction of cells, which may lead to the development of cancer. According to the Harvard Medical School, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can be a preventative measure toward combating cancer. As an added bonus, anti-inflammatory foods may also reduce the risk of other serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
Foods to add to your diet to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits include:
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Fatty fish
- Grape juice
- Green tea
Foods to avoid are those that cause inflammation such as:
- Fried foods
- Red meat
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries
- Sugary beverages like soda
Phyto is from the Greek word phuton, meaning of or relating to plants. Phytochemicals, sometimes called phytonutrients, are, as the name suggests, plant-based chemicals. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discussed the health benefits of receiving phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables in your diet, including a reduced risk of developing cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, phytochemicals have been shown to produce several health benefits when consumed. Phytochemicals give the body a boost by:
- Stimulating the immune system
- Reducing inflammation
- Blocking harmful substances from becoming carcinogens
- Preventing and repairing DNA damage
- Reducing damage to cells and slowing the growth of cancer cells
- Eradicating damaged cells before they have the chance to turn into cancer
- Helping with hormone regulation
The following fruits and vegetables are good sources of cancer-fighting phytochemicals:
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Grape juice
- Soybeans and soy products (tofu, soymilk, etc.)
- Winter squash
Certain teas may also help protect against specific types of cancer, such as yerba mate tea.
In summary, the best foods that fight cancer are those filled with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and phytochemicals. These include several fruits and vegetables such as apples, blueberries, broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, carrots, cherries, cranberries, dark green leafy vegetables, grapefruit, grapes and grape juice, tomatoes, and winter squash. Additional foods that prevent cancer include coffee, dry beans and peas, flaxseed, garlic, soy, tea, walnuts, and whole grains. Diets high in fiber-rich foods like blueberries, cherries, cranberries, dry beans and peas, flaxseed, whole grains, and cereal may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Substituting snacks with excessive added sugars and carbohydrates for fruits and vegetables can also help with maintaining a healthy weight, which plays an important role in fighting cancer. While consuming the foods listed here can’t guarantee a cancer-free future, it is a way to be proactive, feel empowered, and stay healthy.