Foods that Help to Prevent Cancer
An unhealthy diet is linked to about one third of all cancer cases. Here, the top “all-star foods” that can protect you.
The Expert Report by the World Cancer Research Fund (2007) found that the food we eat and other lifestyle choices such as daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight are key to preventing cancer. This epic report — which was five years in the making and reviewed 7,000 large-scale studies — found that an unhealthy diet is linked to about one third of all cancer cases.
In fact, according to U.S.-based The National Cancer Institute (NCI), serious diseases that are linked to what we eat kill an estimated three out of four Americans each year. These diseases include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.
But while the foods you eat can hurt you, they can also help you. And not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables are “All-Star foods” when it comes to protecting yourself against cancer.
Foods you gotta love
Research shows that diets most protective against cancer are predominately plant-based. Here are just a few ways food can help in the battle against cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale) contain two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin that may help decrease prostate and other cancers.
Foods that contain folate such as liver, spinach, beans, broccoli, oranges, lettuce, avocado, and asparagus are thought to help protect against cancer of the pancreas. Avocados are also rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body. They also provide even more potassium than bananas.
Onions, chives, leeks and garlic may help prevent stomach cancer. Garlic also has immune-enhancing allium compounds that appear to increase the activity of immune cells that fight cancer.
Foods to avoid
Now for the bad news, particularly for meat-lovers. To maintain a healthy diet, you can forget about eating processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and some sausages. According to the WCRF, no amount is considered completely safe. Also try to limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) to less than 500g cooked weight (about 700-750g raw weight) a week. Both red and processed meats are thought to be causes of bowel cancer.
Tip: For big breakfast eaters, try having your eggs with roasted tomatoes, which are rich in healthy carotenoids — which the WCRF says can lower the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and lung. And add some crushed garlic to help prevent bowel and stomach cancer. Tasty and healthy substitutes for bacon (particularly in pasta sauces) are cooked mushrooms because of their strong flavour and meaty texture.
Other ‘bad guys’
Salty foods and foods processed with salt, including some bread and breakfast cereals. Research suggests that salt and salt-preserved foods are linked with stomach cancer.
Reduce your cancer risk
When it comes to eating to prevent cancer, Liz Armstrong, co-author of Cancer: 101 Solutions to a preventable epidemic (New Society Publishers), says there are 4 ‘must do’ principles to reduce your cancer risk.
1. Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables — and as much as possible, buy fresh, ripe, locally grown and organic. As a general rule of thumb: raw or lightly steamed is more healthy than cooked; fresh is better than frozen; and frozen is better than canned.
2. Drink lots of healthy liquids including pure water (cleansed of chlorine and other contaminants), various teas such as green and Chai, and freshly juiced fruits and vegetables.
3. Start your cancer prevention early — in the womb if possible! The good news, however, is that it’s never too late to begin. “While starting ‘in utero’ is not an option for us over-50s, we can offer this good advice to our kids and grandkids who are about to become pregnant,” Armstrong says.
4. Take good quality food supplements. While the WCRF recommends that people aim to meet their nutritional needs through food, Armstrong says this is not always possible – and not only because of our busy schedules. “We know from the literature and studies of food nutrients over time that the percentages of many vitamins and minerals in veggies have plunged since the 1930s and 40s, so it seems prudent to supplement, that is, until the soils that grow most of our foods have been remediated sufficiently to provide what our bodies need,” Armstrong says.