According to a major report released in October by the American Institute for Cancer Research, more than half of the estimated cancer deaths that will occur in the United States this year are related to preventable causes.
Among these, poor dietary habits, obesity and being overweight account for 25 percent of the preventable causes of cancer — second only to smoking.
And while individual nutrients have been found to demonstrate anti-cancer effects in the lab, the evidence suggests that eating multiple anti-cancer nutrients and phytochemicals (beneficial compounds in plants) together as part of a healthful diet seems to have the most protective effect on warding off cancer (as opposed to taking individual supplements).
In other words, while no single food can guarantee that you’ll be cancer free, eating a combination of these foods as part of an overall healthful diet can certainly tip the odds in your favor. Here are five potent foods to include on a regular basis.
1. Cruciferous veggies
Broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower are all cruciferous vegetables. Several laboratory studies have suggested that cruciferous vegetables help control body enzymes that protect our cells against cancer. Compounds in these vegetables called sulforaphanes have shown the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells in the breast and other tissues, like the colon, liver, lung, and cervix. But some research suggests that overcooking your veggies can knock out a majority of these compounds. To get the most out of your veggies, lightly steam or sauté them rather than boiling them.
2. Beans and lentils
According to a study in the International Journal of Cancer, women who ate beans or lentils two or more times per week had a 34 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them one or fewer times per month. Beans contain compounds called flavanols which have been shown to ward off various types of cancers. Beans are also a great source of lean protein and fiber (the kind that can help lower cholesterol!)
All berries have a compound called ellagic acid, particularly strawberries and raspberries. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, ellagic acid may help slow the growth of cancer cells by acting as an antioxidant, helping the body fight specific carcinogens. Fresh and frozen berries both deliver the benefits!
These tree nuts contain phytosterols, plant compounds that may bind to estrogen and stop breast cancer cell growth according to studies done in mice. In one study published in Nutrition and Cancer, mice that ate the equivalent of 2 ounces of walnuts daily had significantly slowed tumor growth compared to mice that didn’t have walnuts. Walnuts are also a great source of the omega 3 fatty acid ALA as well as other plant compounds like polyphenols and vitamin E, which have additional health benefits.
The omega-3 fats in fish such as salmon, mackerel, white tuna, sardines, and herring may help fight breast cancer. Researchers think that the positive effect comes from the omega 3’s ability to lower body inflammation. Over time, inflammation can increase the risk of cancer. Eating about 4-6 ounces of high omega 3 fatty acid fish at least twice per week is recommended to get the most benefits.