What nutrients are beneficial in the prevention of cancer?
Cancer is a class of disease characterized by out-of-control cell growth. There are over 100 different types of cancer, and each is classified by the type of cell that is initially affected. Tumors can grow and interfere with the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems, and they can release hormones that alter body function. Cancer occurs when a cell’s gene mutations make the cell unable to correct DNA damage and unable to commit suicide. Similarly, cancer is a result of mutations that inhibit oncogene and tumor suppressor gene function, leading to uncontrollable cell growth.
Carcinogens are a class of substances that are directly responsible for damaging DNA, promoting or aiding cancer. Tobacco, asbestos, arsenic, radiation such as gamma and x-rays, the sun, and compounds in car exhaust fumes are all examples of carcinogens. When our bodies are exposed to carcinogens, free radicals are formed that try to steal electrons from other molecules in the body. Theses free radicals damage cells and affect their ability to function normally.
What can one refer to as cancer-fighting foods?
Eating a variety of these foods in conjunction with other nutritious foods will help ensure that we are getting adequate nutrients. Foods high in antioxidants are very essential in protecting the body, and possess anti-inflammatory properties. Some of them are listed below;
- Broccoli is a strong source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, magnesium, beta carotene (vitamin A) and folate.
- Dark leafy greens provide vitamin K, fiber, folate and carotenoids.
- Tomatoes offer vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and lycopene.
- Blueberries are a source of vitamin C as well as fiber, vitamin K and high levels of antioxidants.
- Walnuts contain polyphenols (phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties) and omega-3 fatty acids; they also have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Garlic is an allium vegetable that studies show may have anti-cancer effects that can protect against stomach, colorectal, prostate and bladder cancers.
- Turmeric has the main active ingredient curcumin, which has a strong anti-inflammatory effect and is an antioxidant.
Foods that should NEVER be included in an anti-cancer diet
1. Processed Meats
While quality meats, fish and dairy products can be included in an anti-cancer diet, processed meats are definitely something to avoid. Processed meats are those that have been treated, altered or preserved to improve taste and prolong freshness. They can contain additives such as nitrates and tend to be very high in sodium. A clue that is a meat is processed is if it’s been prepared in any of the following ways: salting, curing, smoking. Examples of processed meats include hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats/cold-cuts.
- Fried, Burnt and Overly Cooked Foods
Acrylamide is a toxin found in things like cigarette smoke and is also used in industrial processes like making dyes and plastics. What’s surprising is that acrylamide is also a chemical that forms on certain foods, especially starchy foods like bread, crackers, cakes and potatoes, when they are cooked for long periods at high temperatures. Acrylamide is mainly found in highly-cooked plant foods like potato and grain products, such as French fries, potato chips, and to some extent coffee. The chemical reaction occurs when certain starchy foods are cooked above about 250° F. This causes sugars and the amino acid asparagine to create acrylamide.
- Added Sugar
Sugar can do more than increase your calorie intake and contribute to an expanding waistline— high consumption of added sugar has also been associated with increased cancer risk. There’s evidence that added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, may increase the risk of esophageal cancer, small intestine cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer. A number of studies have found that sugar not only contributes to problems like obesity and diabetes, but is also linked to increased growth of tumors and metastasis.
- Foods High in Additives
A 2016 study published in Cancer Research discovered a link between common food additives and colon cancer. Researchers at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences found that mice that regularly ingested the dietary emulsifiers called polysorbate-80 and carboxymethylcellulose experienced exacerbated tumor development and increased, low-grade inflammation and colon carcinogenesis.
These emulsifiers act as “detergent-like” ingredients in the gut, significantly changing the species composition of the gut microbiome. Alterations in bacterial species can result in bacteria expressing more flagllins and lipopolysaccharides; in other words, changes in the microbiome can interfere with functions of the immune system, promote inflammation and increase harmful gene expressions. Examples of products and processed foods containing emulsifiers are; include dairy products such as ice cream, creamy beauty products, toothpaste, mouthwash, laxatives, diet pills, water-based paints, detergents and even vaccines.
Recommended cancer-fighting foods
No single food or food group alone can ward off or fight cancer alone. There is no “anti-cancer diet.” It is best to eat a healthy and nutrient-dense, plant-based diet including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Include low-fat dairy and lean proteins moderately, and eat whole grains. Limit red meats and processed meats. Eating a well-balanced diet and being active is also key to maintaining a healthy weight, which takes a primary role in protecting against cancer.
Powerful Cancer-Fighting Foods
- Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy greens are the cornerstone of any healthy diet since they’re exceptionally rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, yet very low in calories, fats, sodium and other toxins. Leafy greens of all kinds — nutritious spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine, arugula salad, watercress, etc. — are rich in antioxidants known to combat cancer, including vitamin C and beta-carotene (a type of vitamin A).
And the benefits keep coming; as natural sources of glucosinolates, they also contain antibacterial and antiviral properties, inactivate carcinogens, help reprogram cancer cells to die off, and prevent tumor formation and metastasis. These powerhouse chemicals are known to break down during the chewing and digestion process into biologically active compounds that prevent cancer cells growth, which are referred to as indoles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates.
Isothiocyanates (ITCs) found in leafy greens, which are made from glucosinolates, have been reported to help detox your body at the cellular level. Add a handful of leafy greens to your lunch and dinner to increase your nutrient intake; to make obtaining them simpler, try juicing vegetables for near perfect health. Vegetable juices are very easy to digest and make yourself at home. The Gerson diet meal plan even advises cancer patients to drink 13 glasses of freshly prepared juice daily!
- Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are known to be powerful cancer killers and some of the best vitamin C foods widely available. Many are rich in glutathione, known as the body’s “master antioxidant” since it has high free-radical-scavenging abilities. Nearly all members of the brassica family of cruciferous vegetables are nutrient-dense sources of a family of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates that are linked to cancer prevention. In addition to isothiocyanates, cruciferous veggies like cabbage and broccoli also contain sulforaphanes and indoles — two types of strong antioxidants and stimulators of detoxifying enzymes that protect the structure of DNA.
Add one or two kinds — including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or Brussels sprouts — to three mostly plant-based meals daily in the form of roasted veggies, soups or stir fries, or dip them into hummus or Greek yogurt for a healthy, fast snack. Additionally, many other vegetables are beneficial for lowering cancer risk, including onions, zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, peppers, carrots and beets.
The ORAC scores of nearly all berries are very high, making them some of the top high-antioxidant foods in the world. Blueberries, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, goji berries, camu camu and blackberries are easy to find and use in numerous types of recipes — which is good news considering they supply vitamin C, vitamin A and gallic acid, a powerful antifungal/antiviral agent that increases immunity.
Berries are especially rich in proanthocyanidin antioxidants, which have been observed to have anti-aging properties in several animal studies and are capable of lowering free radical damage. High amounts of phenols, zeaxanthin, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, lutein and polysaccharides are other berry benefits. Less familiar “superfoods” mulberry, camu camu and goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine since around 200 B.C. to increase immunity and energy, so look for those in powder or dried form in health food stores and online.
- Brightly Orange-Colored Fruits and Veggies (Citrus Fruits, Squash, Sweet Potatoes, etc.)
Brightly colored pigments found in plant foods are a sure sign that they’re beaming with phytochemicals, especially carotenoid antioxidants. This is exactly the reason you want to “eat the rainbow” and vary the colors of the foods on your plate.
Carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin) are derivatives of vitamin A found in many citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, berries, pumpkin, squashes and other plant foods. One of the most researched is beta-carotene, an essential nutrient for immune functioning; detoxification; liver health; and fighting cancers of the skin, eyes and organs. Two nutrients that give these foods their signature dark hues include lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to help prevent eye and skin-related disorders since they act as antioxidants that filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths, protecting healthy cells in the process.
When it comes to carbohydrate-rich veggies, studies show that complex carbs, including sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, other tubers and whole-grain foods, is related to a reduced risk of several types of cancer, particularly of the upper digestive tract. This is likely due to a favorable role of fiber, but the issue is still open to discussion. In contrast, refined grain intake and high glycemic load foods are not apart of an anti-cancer diet. These have been associated with increased risk of different types of cancer, including breast and colorectal.
- Fresh Herbs and Spices
Turmeric, which contains the active ingredient curcumin, is one of the most powerful ingredients in an anti-cancer diet because it’s been shown to decrease tumor size and fight colon and breast cancer. Along with easy-to-use black pepper, turmeric absorption is enhanced and better able to fight inflammation. Aim for one teaspoon of turmeric powder and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper or more daily, which can easily be used in a tonic drink, with eggs or in a veggie stir fry. You can also take curcumin supplements; aim for 1,000 milligrams daily.
Additionally, other herbs that act as immune system boosters include ginger, raw garlic, thyme, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil and parsley — which can easily be used in many recipes, juices, dressings and smoothies.
- Organic Meats
Organic meats including beef or chicken liver are recommended on many cancer-fighting diets since they’re considered some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and extremely high in vitamin B12. Consuming organic meats as part of a “nose to tail” approach to eating animal proteins provides minerals that help cleanse the liver and enhance the ability to remove toxins from the blood and digestive tract.
Detoxifying with rich sources of selenium, zinc and B vitamins helps purify blood; produce the bile needed to digest fats; balance hormones naturally; and store essential vitamins, minerals and iron. These mineral-rich foods can help counteract the effects of alcohol, prescription drugs, hormone disruptions, high triglyceride levels, low potassium, obesity and viral infections.
7. Cultured Dairy Products
Cultured dairy products are a rich source of “good bacteria” probiotics, which are microorganisms that promote a natural bacterial balance in your intestinal microflora and help increase immunity. Over 80 percent of your immune system is housed in your gut, so it’s no surprise that probiotic foods and supplementation can stop tumor growth and help cells renew.
One of the easiest ways to consume more probiotics is in their most natural state, which includes raw milk products such as cheese, kefir and yogurt. Raw and cultured are key here, since fermentation produces probiotics but high heat processing used to pasteurize dairy can damage many of the vital nutrients, including the enzymes, proteins and probiotics. Most dairy today is loaded with hormones, antibiotics, pain killers and pesticide residue so buying organic is also important.
Aim for six ounces of cultured dairy daily (probiotic yogurt, cottage cheese, goat milk kefir or amasai). Cottage cheese, which is rich in sulfur protein and saturated fats, was found to be especially beneficial as part of the Budwig diet for cancer protocol. You can also increase your probiotic food intake without dairy by consuming cultured vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, coconut kefir, kombucha or natto.
Cultured dairy is also a great source of calcium. Calcium, particularly when combined with Vitamin D3 form, may reduce the incidence of cancer by 35 to 60 percent. Calcium seems to be especially beneficial for preventing cancer and rectal cancers. (16) Some studies have also found that it helps reduce breast cancer and ovarian cancer risk. Sunlight exposure and marine oils such as cod liver oil or krill oil are great sources of vitamin D that help with calcium absorption. Calcium should ideally be obtained from foods like organic dairy products (I recommend
- Nuts and Seeds
Chia seeds and flaxseeds are two of the most nutrient-dense seeds in the world. They provide fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and a range of important minerals. Hemp seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are also beneficial and full of healthy fatty acids, as are walnuts, brazil nuts and almonds. Their health benefits and are best sprouted and can be used easily in smoothies, baked goods and with yogurt. Aim for two tablespoons daily.
- Healthy Unrefined Oils (Coconut, Flax, Cod Liver and Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
Did you know that your brain and nervous system control the function of your entire body and that about 60 percent of your nervous system is made up of fatty acids? The problem is that many of the conventional processed fats and oils widely consumed today are hydrogenated oils that are capable of destroying the membranes of our cells, leading to diseased cells and toxicity.
Refined and rancid fats create problems throughout your entire body, leading to lower immune function, cell congestion and inflammation that kicks off disease. Replace refined vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils and trans fats with quality oils, including flax oil, extra virgin olive oil, cod oil and coconut oil. These nourish your gut and promote better immune function, help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, plus flaxseed and cod liver oil contain essential omega-3 fatty acids that can help energize your cells. Olive oil contains phytonutrients that seem to reduce inflammation in the body. It may reduce the risk of breast and colorectal cancers.
Nutritious mushrooms vary in terms of their benefits, taste and appearance since hundreds of mushroom species are in existence today, but all are known to be immune-enhancers and many have been used to fight cancer for centuries. Reishi, cordyceps and maitake in particular can improve immune function, fight tumor growth and help with cell regeneration. Look for them in capsule or tincture form, and cook with them whole whenever possible too.
- Traditional Teas
Metastasis is the most deadly aspect of cancer and results from several connected processes including cell proliferation, angiogenesis, cell adhesion, migration and invasion into the surrounding tissue. Metastasis is the principal cause of death among cancer patients, so it’s one of the most important issues in cancer research today. Several clinical and epidemiological studies have reported that the consumption of green tea can help decrease cancer risk. Green tea contains major polyphenolic compounds, including epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which has been shown to inhibit tumor invasion and angiogenesis, which are essential for tumor growth and metastasis.
Teas derived from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis are commonly consumed as beverages around the world, including green, black or oolong tea. While all traditional teas seem to be beneficial, the most significant effects on human health have been attributed to green tea, such as matcha green tea. It contains the highest percetange of polyphenolic compounds, catechin, gallocatechin and EGCG.
The antioxidant EGCG appears to be the most potent of all the catechins, and its anticancer effects have activity about 25–100 times more effective than that of vitamins C and E! EGCG has been reported to be linked to the modulation of multiple signaling pathways, finally resulting in the downregulation of expression of proteins involved in the invasiveness of cancer cells.
- Wild-Caught Fish
According to a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Richerche Institute of Pharmacology, higher fish consumption is another favorable diet indicator of better immune function. The study, which investigated the cancer-fighting effects of the Mediterranean diet, found that people who reported eating less fish and more frequent red meat showed several common neoplasms in their blood that suggested higher susceptibility.
Wild and especially small fish, including salmon, mackerel and sardines are anti-inflammatory omega-3 foods that are correlated with better brain, hormonal and nervous system health. Omega-3 fatty acids exert anti-inflammatory effects, and therefore recent studies have connected them to cancer prevention and natural enhancement of antitumour therapies. (20) Evidence suggests a role for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in cancer prevention and reducing symptoms of treatments like chemotherapy. Omega-3s have been shown to preserve muscle mass and function in chemotherapy cancer patients and to contribute to a reduced inflammatory response resulting from the treatment’s toxicity.
- Graviola/ Soursop
Graviola extract has been shown to kill certain types of liver and breast cancer cells that are resistant to particular chemotherapy drugs. One laboratory study also found that a compound isolated from soursop seeds had 10,000 times the potency of one particular chemotherapy drug on colon adenocarcinoma cells. However, as yet, there have been no large-scale tests on humans and there is no credible evidence to support claims that graviola is an effective cure or treatment for cancer.