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There’s a reason why, as a kid, you couldn’t leave the dinner table until after you finished all the healthy green stuff on your plate. Fruits and veggies are just plain good for you and have some pretty powerful effects on your health.
Research shows us that diet can be linked to illnesses like heart disease and the big C. Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death and that is often because we eat junk and aren’t exercising enough (tell us what we don’t already know, science).
So, we all know we’re supposed to eat our fruits and veggies, but life is short and those Taco Tuesday margs are calling. Put down the marg pitcher and the barbacoa taco for a second, Susan; it’s time to start eating these 15 foods that can help you kick cancer’s butt.
Part of the cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli offers a bunch of cancer-fighting benefits with folate, fiber, magnesium, beta carotene, and potassium.
According to a 2017 study, people who eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are found to have a lower risk of bladder cancer due to isothiocyanates that have anti-carcinogenic powers and can reduce bladder cancer cells.
Another lab study also found the sulforaphane in broccoli and broccoli sprouts decreased the cancer stem cell markers in 65 to 80 percent of human breast cancer cells.
This fruit offers a ton of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. A 2010 study found that eating at least one apple per day reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent.
Researchers believe this is due to the antioxidant-rich flavonoids and polyphenols in apples, which have been shown to prevent cancer onset and cell proliferation (what can increase tumors).
Additionally, another study that tracked the diets of 6,048 Danish participants for 23 years found that those who regularly ate foods high in flavonoids were less likely to die from heart disease or cancer.
Blueberries provide vitamins C and K, manganese, and fiber. Plus, blueberries are an antioxidant powerhouse.
The reason for the high amounts of antioxidants in blueberries? This fruit contains phytochemicals including flavonoids and resveratrol. Research conducted in 2012, found that resveratrol and flavonoids offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
For blueberries specifically, a lab test of cervical cancer cells found radiation therapy reduced cancer cells by 20 percent, while blueberry extract reduced cancer cells by 25 percent. Cervical cancer cells fell by 70 percent when combining the two treatments.
Flaxseed has a bunch of good nutrients like magnesium, manganese, thiamin, protein, and lots of fiber. Flaxseed also offers healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. You can take flaxseed as an oil or put the seeds in yogurts, breads, and smoothies.
A recent lab study found that flaxseed oil prevented the growth of cultured malignant breast cancer cells, cervical cancer cells, leukemia cells, and melanoma cells.
Carrots are super high in vitamin A (about one large carrot or 12-ish baby carrots is 200 percent of your daily value) and also offer a good amount of fiber, carotenoids, and vitamin K.
Carrots get vitamin A via beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, which can neutralize free radicals to prevent cell proliferation — aka destroy cancerous cells and create new blood vessels.
Studies have shown a link between consuming carrots and breast cancer and prostate cancer risk. A systematic literature search of papers published in 2013 found that carrots decreased the risk of prostate cancer.
Additionally, a 2018 meta-analysis found that high carrot intake was associated with a 21 percent decreased the risk of breast cancer.
Bonus points if you eat purple, red, or yellow carrots that have additional flavonoids or carotenoids.
Cherries are also very high in antioxidants and offer vitamin C and potassium. Tart and sweet cherries contain phytochemicals that give it antioxidant power, with tart cherries having even more. Tart cherries also offer vitamin A.
In a review of 29 studies, researchers found the majority of participants showed that eating cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress, inflammation, and blood pressure.
Another lab study found the anthocyanins and cyanidin in tart cherries could reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Maybe you should get anchovies on your pizza after all. The omega-3s found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and anchovies have cancer-fighting benefits.
A 2018 study on mice exposed to omega-3s found that marine-based omega-3s are eight times more effective at stopping breast tumors from developing compared to flaxseed and other oils.
The same study showed that omega-3s from fish decreased the tumor size by 60 to 70 percent and decreased the number of tumors by 30 percent.
As for us humans, another study that documented the diets of 61,433 Swedish women ages 40 to 76 years old for about 15 years, found that women who ate one or more servings of fatty fish per week decreased their risk of renal cell carcinoma by 44 percent. Researchers checked in 10 years later and found the risk lowered to 74 percent.
The good news is you’re probably already consuming more than enough of this “food”! Coffee has health benefits such as riboflavin and a high concentration of antioxidants.
Want more good news? Toasting coffee beans ups the antioxidant potency even more.
One study found that four cups of joe per day could be associated with a 20 percent reduced endometrial cancer risk and with a 24 percent reduced postmenopausal cancer risk.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you fight cancer. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but you get the idea.
Legumes include beans like kidney beans, black beans, red lentils, and yellow split peas. To get the most cancer-fighting benefits, start with legumes in their dry form, which offer a ton of fiber, protein, and folate.
A review of legume intake studies indicates that countries who eat a diet rich in legumes have lower numbers of colorectal cancer and other studies showed that legumes offer chemopreventive mechanisms against colon cancer.
Another review found 13 epidemiologic studies showing that higher dietary isoflavone levels from soy products and legumes was associated with a reduced risk of endometrial cancer.
Most nuts offer cancer-fighting benefits, but walnuts take the prize. Walnuts offer essential fatty acids, as well as vitamin E and polyphenols.
Walnuts are one of the best sources for polyphenols and offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that could fight cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Tomatoes are packed full of vitamin C, vitamin A (from beta-carotene), and potassium. The fruit masquerading as a vegetable also offers the heart-healthy antioxidant and carotenoid, lycopene.
A 2018 study of Korean men and women found that participants who consumed a higher amount of lycopene from tomatoes and ketchup had a lower stomach cancer risk.
Additionally, a lab study showed tomatoes can have positive effects on skin cancer by lessening UV light damage and tumor risk.
Keep Nosferatu and cancer out with garlic. What hurts your breath is great for your bod.
The major cancer-fighting properties of garlic include the antibiotic and antifungal compound allicin, flavonoids (a returning cancer prevention nutrient), as well as selenium and allyl sulfides, which both help stop or repair damage to DNA caused by cancer cells.
Meta-analysis studies, including one from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research, showed consumption of large amounts of allium vegetables — which includes garlic — reduced the risk of stomach cancer.
The study found further evidence that garlic and other allium veggies could help prevent stomach, colorectal, and to some extent esophageal cancers.
Citrus fruits, in general, are super healthy and have great anti-cancer benefits. Seventeen studies found that participants who had a higher citrus fruit intake showed a 50 percent less risk of developing oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer.
Grapefruit specifically often gets a bad rep because of its sour taste, but this ruby-red fruit is a great addition to your cancer-fighting food arsenal.
Grapefruit has tons of vitamin C, fiber, good-for-you phytochemicals, flavonoids, and carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene.
According to an American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund study, the Vitamin C and phytochemical makeup of grapefruits offer different ways for the body to reduce a person’s risk of cancer.
There’s so much more to cranberries than chugging cranberry juice for a pesky UTI. Cranberries have a bunch of good stuff like vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ursolic acid, benzoic acid, and hydroxycinnamic acid.
Cranberries can also help prostate health. One study gave 64 prostate cancer patients either cranberry fruit powder or a placebo and found the cranberry group’s serum prostate specific antigen (a protein that can indicate prostate cancer if too high) decreased by 22.5 percent.
The last cruciferous veggie on our list, red cabbage is a great addition to your plate. Red cabbage offers anthocyanins as well as polyphenols.
Red cabbage is shown to have the highest antioxidant content of cabbage, and all cabbage offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that could prevent diseases associated with oxidative stress (caused by imbalanced free radicals and antioxidants) like cancer.
While there are tons of studies that link certain foods and decreased cancer risk, there isn’t enough evidence that just eating these foods will prevent cancer.
First off, data isn’t perfect. A lot of cancer-fighting food studies use epidemiology, which is where researchers study existing data and the causal links between disease and populations.
Additionally, many studies are in a controlled lab setting. That means a lot of lab testing on mice (think Pinky and the Brain without the whole taking over the world thing). Many studies also look at a nutrient’s effect on cancer cells, not the food itself.
What we do know about diet and basic health is that your diet is definitely linked to disease, and therefore cancer.
A study of systematic data collected in 2013, found that an estimated 5.6 to 7.8 million premature deaths around the world may be responsible for people eating less than 500 to 800 grams of fruits and veggies per day.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, having overweight can increase your risk of getting 12 different kinds of cancer.
Eating a healthy diet is huge for your overall health and the American Institute for Cancer Research also outlines seven nutrients for optimum health that can be found in the 15 foods we suggested above.
So load up your plate with healthy, whole foods. About 2/3 of your plate should be plant foods and try to “eat the rainbow,” as health gurus would say.