You probably know that diet is one of the most important elements of cancer prevention. Along with exercise, it’s one of the few things you can control since genetics and environment are largely determined by someone or something else.
Of course, if you’re still smoking cigarettes or using tobacco in any form, think about getting some help to quit.
When it comes to diet, in general you simply need to focus on eating whole, organic foods over processed and pesticide-laden ones. However, there is some nuance to it. There are certain nutrients that have been shown to be especially good at striking down cancer cells.
Following are 7 foods, elements of food, or ingredients that should take center stage in any diet meant to prevent cancer or support recovery from it.
1. Folate-Rich Foods
Folate is a B-complex vitamin that’s so important it is used to fortify many foods that don’t otherwise contain it. The reason is that low levels of folate are linked to mutations in DNA that leave the door wide open for cancer. Studies have shown that consuming at least 400 micrograms per day can cut your cancer risk significantly.
Great ways to get folate include orange juice, fortified cereals, peanuts, and beans. Spinach and romaine lettuce are also rich in folate, as is asparagus and Brussels sprouts. Try to add something that is rich in folate to each meal, but if you struggle, it might be worth it to take a supplement.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that aids in calcium absorption and helps protect against depression, heart disease, and weight gain. It also works to curb the growth of cancer cells. In fact, recent studies have indicated that vitamin D can reduce the risk of breast cancer by an astonishing 50%. It may also improve survival rates for people with lung cancer.
One of the best ways to get vitamin D is from the sun – it takes about 10 minutes of exposure without sunscreen to trigger the body to synthesize it. Good food sources include milk, eggs, and seafood such as cod, shrimp, and Chinook salmon.
This comforting and highly customizable beverage is loaded with antioxidants, which are your best line of defense against free radical damage. When free radicals are allowed to damage cells, it leaves them weakened and vulnerable to cancer. One particular antioxidant in tea, called kaempferol, has been shown in studies to reduce the risk, especially in reproductive cancers.
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends consuming between 10-12 milligrams of kaempferol each day. It takes about four cups to get there. Don’t worry if you don’t want to drink that much tea. Other food sources include fruits like apples, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, and “technically a fruit” tomatoes. Veggies high in kaempferol are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, squash, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach.
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
Since broccoli and Brussels sprouts have already come up a few times, let’s talk about why that is. They both belong to the group of cruciferous vegetables, which also includes kale, cabbage, turnip greens, and cauliflower. Lab experiments have determined that cruciferous vegetables produce a cancer-killing substance when cut or chewed.
Cruciferous veggies seem particularly good at protecting against prostate and colon cancers. In fact, in animal studies sulforaphane and other substances produced upon cutting or chewing these veggies actually shrunk tumors. There are plenty of ways to incorporate cruciferous vegetables into your diet. The only thing you can’t do (and still get the benefits) is swallow them whole.
Curcumin is the bright yellow spice that gives curry dishes their distinctive taste and color. It is also known for having anti-inflammatory effects that can fight cancer. Inflammation is a factor in the development of pretty much all diseases, and cancer is no exception. By suppressing inflammation, curcumin appears to prevent the transformation and proliferation of cancerous cells.
Perhaps best at reducing the risk of bladder and gastrointestinal cancers, researchers nonetheless insist that no cancer is immune from curcumin’s effects. Dried and powdered curcumin can be sprinkled into all sorts of savory dishes to provide a little Indian flair along with cancer protection.
Ginger is another popular spice, traditional in Asian cuisine but utilized heavily in Europe and the Americas, too. Ginger is often used to reduce nausea, but that’s not all it can do. Beyond being an excellent preventative in our diets, ginger may soon be an integral part of cancer treatments.
Researchers have discovered that ginger can cause the death of cancer cells in two distinct ways. One is called apoptosis, in which the cancer cells basically commit suicide without harming healthy cells that surround them. Another way is autophagy, in which cancer cells are tricked into digesting themselves. Either way, adding more ginger to your diet is a no-brainer.
Basically all berries feature high levels of phytonutrients, which are known to offer protection against cancer. Black raspberries could be the cream of the crop though, as they contain a great deal of a particular phytochemical called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin has been found to slow the growth of premalignant cells. It also prevents the growth of new blood vessels that would feed the resulting tumor.
Berries seem to especially protect against colon, esophageal, oral, and skin cancers. Scientific studies typically use concentrated berry powder, but adding a few servings of fresh or frozen berries to your daily diet is also quite beneficial.