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Foods that Fight Cancer

by Bonnie Coberly
(Fairfax, VA, US)


While no single food or food component can completely protect you from cancer, a diet filled with a variety of plant foods can help lower your risk for developing many types of cancer.

Research shows that specific minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals in certain vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans demonstrate anti-cancer effects.

Other research suggests synergy among compounds provides the greatest protective effect. In other words, adding a large variety of plant foods to your overall diet offers the greatest amount of protection from cancer.

The Cancer-fighting Components in Plant Foods

Many plants are rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals, which are highly reactive chemicals with the potential to harm DNA inside cells in a way that increases the risk of cancer. DNA is the rule book by which cells divide; damaged DNA causes cells to divide erratically and potentially change into cancer cells. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals to minimize the damage to DNA.

Many plant foods get their color from carotenoids that act as powerful antioxidants. There are more than 750 naturally occurring carotenoid pigments.

While orange-red foods, such as carrots and melons, contain a large amount of carotenoids, dark green plant foods also contain these cancer-fighting chemicals.

Plants also contain polyphenols that protect the plants from ultraviolet radiation and pathogens, including bacteria and viruses that produce disease. However, these polyphenols can also protect you from disease. Research shows long-term consumption of plants rich in polyphenols can offer protection against cancer and other diseases.

Dietary fiber, found only in plant food, may decrease the risk for colon cancer and other types of cancer. Fiber adds bulk that pushes food and waste through the intestines more quickly. This means waste products, some of which are toxic and can lead to cancer, spend less time in your body.

Folate is a B-vitamin that helps your body repair its cells and make DNA. Certain plants contain large amounts of folate; vitamin supplements contain a form of folate known as folic acid.

Some research shows that eating foods high in folate may protect against cancer but other research shows that getting too much folate, especially in supplement form, may actually
increase the risk of cancer.

Eating a plant-based diet instead of taking vitamin supplements may be the best way to ensure you are getting the right amount of folate to manage your risk of cancer.

Foods That Fight Cancer

Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, collard greens and other leafy green vegetables contain cancer-fighting fiber, folate and carotenoids.

To get more carotenoids into your diet, stir cooked spinach into your main dishes; cooking condenses the vegetables to provide more nutritional bang for your buck.

Seasonings: Herbs and spices bring flavor to your food and can protect you from cancer. In fact, four of the top-five foods containing polyphenols and antioxidants are seasonings.

Cloves contain the most polyphenols and antioxidants, followed by dried peppermint, star anise and dried Mexican oregano.

Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables contain glutathione, known as the “master antioxidant” because of its ability to scavenge for free radicals.

Berries: Many berries contain anthocyanins, another type of natural pigment that gives color to bright red, blue and purple foods. Research shows that the anthocyanins in berries inhibit the spread of cancer cells.

Bright red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables: These vegetables get their color from carotenoids. Eat plenty of tomatoes, carrots, apricots and sweet potatoes for your daily dose of cancer-fighting carotenoids.

Walnuts: In addition to polyphenols, walnuts contain melatonin, which is an antioxidant. Walnuts also contain other nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Avoiding certain foods can reduce your risk for cancer. Limit your intake of processed and red meats, including beef, pork and lamb.

Bake, broil or poach lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry rather than frying or charbroiling, as cooking meat at high temperatures may increase the risk of cancer.

Choose low-calorie foods, as foods high in calories can lead to weight gain that increases cancer risk.

Reduce alcohol intake.

For more information on foods that fight cancer, talk with your nutritionist or other health care professionals.

Bonnie Coberly is a Certified Health Counselor. Her team focuses on a wide range of health topics — from dental health to cancer.

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