Top 10 Cancer Fighting Foods

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 2:12pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

Up to 30 percent of all cancers are linked to poor diet. That is a scary statistic, until you think of how much power we have to control it. Diet is one of the few controllable risk factors for developing cancer. Studies demonstrate that people who eat a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have a significantly lower risk of developing many types of cancers.

The plant world is filled with thousands of varieties of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. It should be easy for people to select enough of these foods to keep themselves healthy and running at peak performance for a lifetime. Unfortunately, the reality is that fewer than 20 percent of Americans eat the minimum recommended servings of 5 fruits and vegetables daily, and even fewer consume the 9 servings recommended for cancer prevention.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently approved the statement "Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer and chronic diseases." And, while it is true that all plant foods provide vitamins, minerals, and enzymes important for good health, a few stand ahead of the pack for their cancer-fighting abilities. Here are the top 10 anti-cancer foods:

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1.   Tomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a plant chemical that has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate, ovarian, and cervical cancer. Tomato products, such as spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, and ketchup are particularly concentrated sources.

2.   Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are an excellent source of sulforaphane, a plant chemical that may reduce the risk of stomach, breast, and skin cancer. While broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are also great sources of sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts are especially potent.

3.   Berries

Berries get their rich color from plant chemicals called anthocyanins. These compounds are potent antioxidants, and protect against a variety of cancers including colon and esophageal.

For more information on the health benefits of berries see the following articles from TheDietChannel: Why You Should Be Eating Berries and The Goji Berry and Goji Juice.

4.   Soybeans

Isoflavones present in soybeans and other soy foods (such as tofu, soy nuts, and soy milk) help to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer by protecting cells from the harmful effects of estrogen.

5.   Tea

Green and black teas are natural sources of catechins, potent antioxidants that act as powerful inhibitors of cancer growth, and may reduce the risk of liver, skin, and stomach cancer. The NCI is currently studying green and black teas for their cancer fighting abilities.

6.   Pumpkin

Pumpkin, along with carrots, squash, red and yellow peppers, and sweet potatoes, are excellent sources of beta carotene. Eaten regularly, these powerhouses help reduce the risk of many types of cancer through their potent antioxidant capacity.

7.   Spinach

Spinach is known as the "gold standard" of green leafy vegetables. Packed with lutein and vitamin E, both powerful antioxidants, spinach helps ward off cancer of the liver, ovaries, colon, and prostate.

8.   Garlic

Garlic has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer of the stomach, esophagus, and breast. Mince garlic 10 minutes before cooking to increase its cancer fighting potential.

9.   Pineapple

Pineapple is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. In addition, it contains the enzyme bromelain, which may protect against breast and lung cancer.

10.   Apple

In addition to their antioxidant benefits, apples contain the plant chemical quercetin, which has been shown to reduce lung cancer risk and slow the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Each of these foods has been shown to impact cancer risk on their own. However, countless studies indicate a synergistic effect when eaten together, meaning that plant chemicals work together to produce a greater effect than if they were working alone. The best anti-cancer diet is rich in brightly colored fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with an emphasis on the foods highlighted above.

Sample Cancer Fighting Diet

Follow this sample menu to incorporate the top 10 anti-cancer foods into your diet:

Yogurt smoothie with mixed berries and soy milk

Morning Snack
Apple with peanut butter
Green tea

Spinach wrap with mandarin oranges and broccoli sprouts
Cottage cheese and pineapple
Tomato juice

Baked wild salmon with caramelized onions and garlic
Stewed tomatoes
Pumpkin soup or baked sweet potato
Black tea