8 foods that can help prevent cancer

2022-10-17 19:01:34
8 foods that can help prevent cancer

There’s no one magic superfood that fends off cancer. But eating the right kinds of foods may serve up some serious protection. According to the American Cancer Society, about 42 percent of all cancer cases could be prevented by following a healthy diet and employing other lifestyle changes, such as exercise and sun protection.

The first move is to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Plant foods contain vitamins, minerals, and compounds called phytochemicals that may slow or stop some of the processes that can initiate cancer or support its growth, such as inflammation and DNA damage, says Sheena Patel, MS, RDN, director of nutrition programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research. And certain foods can give you a bit more protection. Start by adding these cancer-fighting foods to your grocery list.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

These cruciferous vegetables, a group that also includes brussels sprouts, kale, and turnips, get their bitter taste from isothiocyanates. These compounds reduce inflammation and deactivate cancer-causing chemicals.

An analysis of studies involving nearly 24,000 people published in Annals of Oncology linked eating cruciferous veggies at least once a week to a lower risk of breast, esophageal, oral, and kidney cancers.

Cooking may break down some of these healthy compounds, says Kirsten Moysich, PhD, MS, a professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Opt for quick ways to cook them, such as sautéing or steaming instead of boiling. One idea: Toss chopped broccoli or cauliflower into a stir-fry or omelet. And try eating some of your cruciferous veggies raw, such as arugula, kale, or red cabbage in a salad.


Snacking on an ounce of nuts each day slashes cancer risk by 15 percent, reports a 2015 analysis in Nutrition Reviews. What’s more, nuts have vitamin E and other phytochemicals and antioxidants that may ward off cancer-causing changes in cells.

For example, walnuts contain ellagitannins, compounds that may help stop the growth of mouth, breast, and colon cancer cells. Nuts are also high in fiber and protein, which help you stay full after eating. “Weight management is important for cancer prevention,” says Patel. Being overweight or obese raises your risk for 13 types of cancer. Because nuts are high in calories, though, keep your portion to about an ounce (about the size of a golf ball).


These little fruits deliver big benefits. They’re high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as polyphenols. Research shows that the phytochemicals in blueberries may help stop or slow breast cancer tumors from growing or spreading.

According to a 2020 study in Cancer Research, women who ate two servings of blueberries a week had a 25 percent lower chance of dying from breast cancer. Slim pickings at the supermarket? Frozen berries are a good option because they contain as many nutrients as fresh ones, says Marji McCullough, RD, a senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society. Add them to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal.

Tofu and Edamame

It’s a myth that soy foods increase breast cancer risk. Research shows that they’re safe and may actually lower your odds of the disease, McCullough says. Why the confusion? Higher levels of estrogen may drive certain breast cancers, and soy contains a type of plant estrogen. But these weaker estrogens may actually block human estrogen from latching onto cells, reducing your risk of breast cancer. Stick mainly with whole soy foods, says McCullough. The jury’s still out on whether the higher estrogen doses in soy supplements or protein powders are safe.


Like butternut squash and other yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, carrots supply carotenoids, especially beta carotene. These antioxidants spur the release of enzymes that rid the body of cancer-causing chemicals. “Carotenoids control abnormal cell growth and improve the immune response,” Patel says. Studies suggest that crunching on carrots regularly may protect against breast, colorectal, and lung cancers. Along with snacking on raw carrots, try using chopped or shredded ones in soups, smoothies, and spaghetti sauce.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as farro, 100 percent whole wheat bread, and oatmeal, contain antioxidants called phenolic acids that help defend against cellular damage and slow the growth of tumors. They’re rich in insoluble fiber, which gut microbes turn into fatty acids. Some of these may reduce colorectal cancer risk, says Edward Giovannucci, MD, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

According to his 2017 research, eating about 3 ounces of whole grains a day lowered the odds of colorectal cancer by 17 percent. You can get that amount by switching from white bread or pasta to whole wheat, snacking on popcorn, and eating various grains, such as quinoa and bulgur.

Dark Leafy Greens

These low-calorie veggies are nutrient powerhouses. “They contain a variety of vitamins, including A, C, and K, plus potassium and fiber,” says Patel. Dark leafy greens are also high in carotenoids and the B vitamin folate, both of which may help guard against DNA damage. Aim to get at least 2 cups of raw or 1 cup of cooked greens each day. “Each leafy green has its own set of nutrients, so eat a variety,” Patel says. For example, spinach is a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect against skin cancer. Meanwhile, kale, arugula, and bok choy are cruciferous veggies, and so contain the same isothiocyanates as broccoli and cauliflower.


Some people think of coffee as a dietary vice. But it turns out the beverage is full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. A 2007 study in Gastroenterology found that drinking 2 cups of joe per day reduces the risk of liver cancer by 43 percent. Other research shows a link between a regular coffee habit and lower odds of developing mouth, throat, and endometrial cancers.

“The key is how you serve it,” Patel says. Specialty coffee drinks are often loaded with sweet syrups and added sugars, which can tack on hundreds of calories. Stick with plain black coffee with a splash of milk. And keep tabs on your caffeine intake: The Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 400 milligrams a day, or about 4 or 5 cups of brewed coffee.

Foods to avoid or eat less

Avoiding alcohol and eating less highly-processed foods, added sugar, and red meat can lower the risk of cancer.

Source: Consumer Reports


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