Foods That Fight Cancer: The Top 10
In no particular order, here is a list of 10 of the best cancer-fighting foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anticancer nutrients.
You can get flax either as the whole seed, ground, or as flaxseed oil. The omega-3s, lignans, and fiber found in flaxseed are found to have a protective effect against cancer, particularly breast cancer. Add flax to yogurt or a smoothie to create a richer, slightly nutty flavor. You can add flaxseed oil to salad dressings or integrate them into pancakes, waffles, or baked goods, such as cookies or muffins.
Uniquely rich in selenium, fiber, and phytochemicals, Brazil nuts can help fight inflammation, improve the immune system, and prevent tumor growth. And you do not need many of them—a small palmful can do the trick. Enjoy them as you would any other nut, such as with some fruit, as part of trail mix, or with roasted asparagus, which is full of anticancer chlorophyll.
Chock full of a cancer-fighting compound called allium, garlic and its relatives (onion, leeks, scallions, and chives) are shown to help prevent and slow tumor growth in stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancer. Garlic and onions are found in a range of different foods, including Italian, Spanish, Indian, Thai, and Chinese dishes. Some people even lightly crush and swallow a piece of garlic every morning.
Dark-green leafy vegetables
From kale to collards to spinach and Swiss chard, dark-green leafy vegetables probably are considered a “one stop shop” for all of the best nutrients your body needs to fend off cancerous cells—fiber, B vitamins, phytochemicals, chlorophyll, and more. Adding some greens to your diet daily is good for your health. Check out this article on adding greens to your diet for tips and ideas.
A great source of omega-3s and vitamins B12 and D, salmon (especially wild caught) can provide your body with the nutrients it needs to regulate cell growth and prevent cancer. In fact, certain types of Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) are proven effective in cancer treatment! Steam it, bake it, grill it, or sauté it. Salmon is a great option that can pair well with many of the other foods on this list, such as garlic, dark-green leafy vegetables, turmeric, peppers, and broccoli.
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
As a cruciferous vegetable (along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale), broccoli is rich in sulforophane and indoles, which are shown to regulate cell growth multiple ways and help fight a range of cancers, including breast, bladder, lymphoma, prostate, and lung cancer. Interestingly, broccoli sprouts have the highest concentration of these compounds, and you can add them into any salad for a healthy, flavorful boost. Enjoy any of these vegetables as a side dish, in a stew, or roasted and tossed with some garlic and slivered almonds.
Pick a pepper, any pepper! Most have some phytochemical or nutrient that will help fight cancer. Chili and jalapeño peppers have capsaicin, which is shown to fight the growth rate of cancer cells, particularly in the prostate. Green peppers are rich in chlorophyll, which can bind cancer-causing carcinogens found in the gut. Red peppers have both capsaicin and antioxidant carotenoids. Put them in a vegetable stir-fry, or eat them with some hummus.
All berries are rich sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which all play a role in reducing oxidation and cancer cell formation in the body. Add some blueberries to your morning cereal, put a few raspberries in plain yogurt for a snack, or enjoy strawberries with a piece of dark chocolate for an evening snack.
Rich in fiber and a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including selenium and B vitamins, choose whole grains such as quinoa, barley, oats, amaranth, brown rice, and whole wheat over their refined, white counterparts. Heat them in the morning with some milk and cinnamon for a warm cereal, eat them as bread at lunch, or cook them up within 30 minutes as a no-hassle (bring to a boil and simmer) healthy side dish at dinner.
A spice commonly found in curry powder, turmeric lends a yellow hue to Indian food, along with a healthy dose of cancer-fighting compounds called curcumin. Studies show that curcumin can inhibit many types of cancer cells, including breast, gastrointestinal, lung, and skin cancer. Pick up a bottle of curry powder at your local grocery store. Try making your own classic Indian dish, such as this vegetable curry, which has a number of these top 10 cancer-fighting foods!
References and recommended readings
Donaldson MS. Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutr J [serial online]. 2004;3(19). Available at: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/3/1/19. Accessed March 29, 2012.
Machowsky J. Anticancer compounds found in food. Available at: www.RD411.com [Oncology Center]. Accessed March 29, 2012.
Machowsky J. (2012). Anticancer vitamins and minerals. Available at: www.RD411.com [Oncology Center]. Accessed March 29, 2012.
Contributed by Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS
Review Date 3/12