What you eat and how much you consume makes a difference when it comes to cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related. What you eat can hurt you, but it can also help you. Many common foods contain cancer-fighting properties, from the antioxidants that neutralize the damage caused by free radicals to the powerful phytochemicals that scientists are just beginning to explore. There isn’t a single element in a particular food that does all the work though. The best thing to do is eat a variety of foods. Pick at least two a day from the list below to boost your protection.
Rasberries contain many vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and antioxidants known as anthocyanins that may protect against cancer. According to a recent research study reported by Cancer Research 2001;61:6112-6119, rats fed diets of 5% to 10% black raspberries saw the number of esophageal tumors decrease by 43% to 62%. Black raspberries are rich in antioxidants, thought to have even more cancer-preventing properties than blueberries and strawberries
2. Tea – Green and Black
Tea has antioxidants called catechins that may block certain enzymes that lead to cancer. In animal research, stomach, liver and skin tumors shrank in mice fed green or black tea. Brewing tea for at least five minutes releases the most antioxidants.
3. Fatty Fish
Several studies have indicated that some components of fish – like omega-3 fatty acids – guard against cancer (just as they do against cardiovascular disease). Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3s.
Garlic has immune-enhancing allium compounds (dialyl sultides) that appear to increase the activity of immune cells that fight cancer and indirectly help break down cancer causing substances. These substances also help block carcinogens from entering cells and slow tumor development. Diallyl sulfide, a component of garlic oil, has also been shown to render carcinogens in the liver inactive. Studies have linked garlic — as well as onions, leeks, and chives — to lower risk of stomach and colon cancer.
All nuts may prevent cancer. They contain the antioxidants quercetin and campferol that may suppress the growth of cancers. Peanuts in particular have been linked to a lower rate of endometrial and colorectal cancers in women.
Researchers say the lignans, compounds that act like antioxidants, in this high-fiber seed may help reduce the growth and spread of breast cancer. Grind flaxseed before eating (or buy ground instead of whole) to better absorb the nutrients. Aim to have 1-2 tablespoons in one helping.
7. Cruciferous Vegetables
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli pack sulfur-containing compounds that may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies have linked them to lower rates of lung, liver, colon, breast and endometrial cancers.
Avocados are rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body by blocking intestinal absorption of certain fats. They also supply even more potassium than bananas and are a strong source of beta-carotene. Scientists also believe that avocados may also be useful in treating viral hepatitis (a cause of liver cancer), as well as other sources of liver damage.
Grapefruit, like oranges and other citrus fruits, contain monoterpenes, believed to help prevent cancer by sweeping carcinogens out of the body. Some studies show that grapefruit may inhibit the proliferation of breast-cancer cells in vitro. They also contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid.
10. Red Grapes
These contain bioflavonoids, powerful antioxidants that work as cancer preventives. Grapes are also a rich source of resveratrol, which inhibits the enzymes that can stimulate cancer-cell growth and suppress immune response. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound that blocks enzymes that are necessary for cancer cells – this appears to help slow the growth of tumors.
There are a number of mushrooms that appear to help the body fight cancer and build the immune system – Shiitake, maitake, reishi, Agaricus blazei Murill, and Coriolus Versicolor. These mushrooms contain polysaccharides, especially Lentinan, powerful compounds that help in building immunity. They also have a protein called lectin, which attacks cancerous cells and prevents them from mulitplying.
Rosemary may help increase the activity of detoxification enzymes. An extract of rosemary, termed carnosol, has inhibited the development of both breast and skin tumours in animals. Rosemary can be used as a seasoning, or consumed as a tea. Use 1 tsp dried leaves per cup of hot water, brew for 15 minutes.
13. Seaweed and other sea vegetables
These contain beta-carotene, protein, vitamin B12, fiber, and chlororphyll, as well as chlorophylones – important fatty acids that may help in the fight against breast cancer. Many sea vegetables also have high concentrations of the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and iodine.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that attacks roaming oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, that are suspected of triggering cancer. It appears that the hotter the weather, the more lycopene tomatoes produce. They also have vitamin C, an antioxidant which can prevent cellular damage that leads to cancer. Watermelons, carrots, and red peppers also contain these substances, but in lesser quantities. It is concentrated by cooking tomatoes. Scientists in Israel have shown that lycopene can kill mouth cancer cells. An increased intake of lycopene has already been linked to a reduced risk of breast, prostate, pancreas and colorectal cancer. (Note: Recent studies indicate that for proper absorption, the body also needs some oil along with lycopene.)
Tumeric, a member of the ginger family, is believed to have medicinal properties because it inhibits production of the inflammation-related enzyme cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2), levels of which are abnormally high in certain inflammatory diseases and cancers, especially bowel and colon cancer.