Cancer is one of the scariest diagnoses one can hear. We all think it won’t happen to us, but the reality is 1 in 2 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime (1). The good news is – about 42% of cancer cases are preventable. We just don’t feel motivated to make necessary changes until it is too late.
Many lifestyle choices can prevent cancer from developing, and the most important one is nutrition. The way we fuel our body, the kind of environment we create inside, the quality of the food we eat, all send a message to our cells and genes. It either switches the “brakes” on the cancer cells or allows them to multiply and spread. “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer” (Dr David Servan-Schreiber).
Here’s a list of foods that have been scientifically proven to prevent cancer:
Cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, white and red cabbage) are highly beneficial in preventing and controlling cancer. They contain a whole list of substances that work together to detoxify carcinogens from the cells and stop pre-cancerous cells from forming malignant tumours. Broccoli is one of the best because of it’s high concentration of sulforaphane. Be aware that overcooking destroys a significant amount of the cancer-fighting chemicals. They are best lightly steamed or stir-fried.
2. Green tea
Green tea is a known anti-oxidant and detoxifier. It supports body’s ability to flush out harmful chemicals and is used extensively for that purpose. Not many people know it also acts as a potent anti-cancer agent by preventing tumours from growing new blood vessels. For best results drink 6 cups of Japanese green tea steeped for 8-10 minutes every day. Decaffeinated green tea brings all the same health benefits as regular tea and is more suitable for the evening.
Certain mushrooms activate the immune system and naturally enhance the body’s defence system against cancer. They also have been shown to assist in slowing the growth of tumours as well as triggering programmed cell death in malignant cells.
Japan is leading the research in the use of mushrooms as a complementary cancer therapy. The best mushrooms for cancer prevention at the moment are Maitake, Reishi, Shiitake, Turkey Tail and Oyster.
4. Olive Oil (extra virgin) and Olives
Extra virgin olive oil and black olives all contain powerful antioxidants that slow down the development of cancer. When consumed over a lifetime, polyphenols in olive oil can also inhibit the expression of the cancer gene that is responsible for 20% of all breast cancers.
Turmeric is the most powerful anti-inflammatory substance. The main molecule of turmeric (curcumin) can kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. Turmeric also increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy. It is most useful for breast, bowel, stomach and skin cancer. You don’t have to eat curry every day to consume enough turmeric – I found this mild spice works almost in every dish and you can even have it as a “turmeric latte” or lovingly called “golden milk”.
The research has shown that raspberry extract damages the tumour’s ability to grow new blood vessels. And blueberries contain substances that help cancer cells to commit suicide. They are great for detoxifying the cells and protecting them from DNA damage. The best berries to consume for cancer prevention are raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and cherries.
7. Alliaceous Family
Yes, we are talking about garlic and onions! Also leeks, shallots, scallions and chives. The compounds in these plants protect cells from cancer-promoting nitrosamines (molecules, that form in our bodies when we eat processed foods preserved with nitrites). They also promote cell death in cancerous tumours and regulate blood sugar levels and insulin, which both affect the growth of cancer cells.
8. Red Wine
We all know about the risks of drinking too much alcohol. Not only it can cause various health complications; it’s a known risk factor for developing cancer. However, it’s a different story with red wine. Resveratrol in red wine slows three initial stages of cancer development and affects the growth of new blood vessels in tumours. Pinot noir has been found to have the highest concentration of resveratrol. Best health-promoting results are achieved with one glass of red wine a day. Drinking more will have the opposite effect and increase your risk of cancer.
9. Dark Chocolate (70% or higher)
A 20g square of dark chocolate contains twice as many polyphenols as a glass of red wine. Chocolate also contains antioxidants that slow the growth of cancer cells. Choose a variety that is 70% – 85% cocoa solids or higher and avoid all milk chocolates.
10. Rainbow vegetables and fruit
All bright coloured vegetables and fruit contain compounds that inhibit the growth of cancer cells and stimulate the immune system to target tumours. Look for produce that is orange, yellow, red, green – carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apricots, beetroot, tomatoes, sweet peppers, squash. Tomatoes have been studied even further and contain additional anti-cancer nutrients, but are best eaten cooked and with some olive oil to get the full health benefit.
One important fact to remember – anti-cancer foods work together and enhance each other. Studies show that consuming them together has a much stronger effect than eating them separately. For example – olive oil enhances the anti-cancer properties of garlic and tomatoes. Green tea is more effective if the person also consumes soy. Food can be as powerful as any medicine, but it works best as a prevention.
It might be tempting to go and buy a collection of extracts and powders made from healthy foods, but the effect will not be the same. Yes, it might help a little, there is a time and place for supplements, but nothing replaces fresh, healthy, “live” foods. Eating them every day, three times a day in a variety of combinations will undoubtedly help you live a longer, healthier life.
When it comes to cancer, nutrition is essential. But including these healthy foods is only one piece of the puzzle. It is just as essential to avoid cancer promoting foods in your diet. Cancer is a complex disease. It’s development is determined by many factors beyond nutrition – lifestyle, environmental toxins, radiation, stress, pesticides. If you want to know more – I highly recommend a book ANTICANCER: A New Way of Life (Dr David Servan-Schreiber) .
There is also a film, based on the same book – “The C Word”, currently on Netflix in the UK. More information: http://thecwordmovie.com/
Good luck and good health!