Close to two 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 and avoiding secondhand smoke, colonoscopies, and wearing sunscreen.
But what about an anti-cancer diet? Can a healthy diet of superfoods help you keep clear of cancer? It may just be your strongest weapon against the big C. So be sure to fill your plate with these foods that fight cancer.
Your Secret Cancer Prevention Weapons: Diet and Exercise
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
- Colon cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Postmenopausal breast cancer
- Stomach cancer
But controlling food portions and getting active are only two pieces of the preventative puzzle. Dr. Wender states that the types of foods you eat play are just as important as how much food you eat and how regularly you exercise.
Foods to Avoid
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 (we’re looking at you processed meat!) have also been implicated as cancer-causing culprits. Not only do processed foods often have high amounts of added sugar and sodium, but a study published in The British Medical Journal revealed that consumption of processed foods also resulted in an increased risk of developing cancer, including breast cancer specifically.
Foods to Eat
The best anti-cancer diet is one that incorporates a plentitude of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables not only help with weight control but 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.
The Science Behind Foods That Fight Cancer
Foods that fight cancer are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and phytochemicals. 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 like the carotenoids beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are often thought of as nutrients that clean out the body by getting rid of the bad stuff. They disarm 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 growth.
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 occurs 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 tumor growth and cancer development. Many studies show that long-term inflammation can lead to the damage of cells as well as to the rapid reproduction of cells, which may lead to cancer.
According to Harvard Medical School, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory whole foods can be a preventative measure toward combating cancer. As an added bonus, anti-inflammatory foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids 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:
- 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 such as polyphenols and flavonoids, and they can also be classified as antioxidants because they set to work counteracting oxidative stress in the body.
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 reduced cancer risk.
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 foods full of phytochemicals:
|Grapefruit||Soybeans and soy products (tofu, soymilk, etc.)|
Certain teas may also help protect against specific types of cancer, such as yerba mate tea.
Steer Clear of Cancer
The best foods that fight cancer are whole foods filled with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and phytochemicals.
These include several fruits and vegetables such as apples, blueberries, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli that contain tumor-destroying sulforaphane, 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 you maintain a healthy weight, which plays an important role in fighting cancer. While consuming the foods listed here can’t guarantee a cancer-free future, eating your leafy greens and trading in hot dogs for fruits and veggies is a way to be proactive, feel empowered, and stay healthy.