I’m going to put my Mommy hat on here, place my hands on my hips, look down at the broccoli you left on your plate, and tell you this: Eat your vegetables! Not because I’m a member of the clean-your-plate club, but because I care about you–and because I know this: in numerous studies following large groups of people, eating more vegetables and fruits has been linked to a lower risk of lung, oral, esophageal, stomach, and colon cancer. The thinking behind these results points to antioxidants and phytochemicals, natural compounds found in plants.
What are antioxidants? As described by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the body seems to use certain nutrients in vegetables and fruits to protect against damage to tissues that happens constantly as a result of normal metabolism (oxidation). Because such damage is linked with increased cancer risk, the antioxidant nutrients are thought to protect against cancer. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and many other phytochemicals (beneficial plant compounds).
Lab coat aside, it’s really a no-brainer. Eat real food, stay healthier. So now you’ve got not only a host of government programs telling you to eat your 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, you’ve got me hovering over your shoulder telling you to do the same! But I’ll go easy on you and offer up a few other plant-based suggestions as well. Here are ten super-duper cancer-fighting foods to add to your regime–these ten were chosen for their special cancer-kicking properties, as described on the Living Strong Living Well page of the Stanford School of Medicine Health Improvement Program.
Beans contain a number of phytochemicals, which have been shown to prevent or slow genetic damage to cells. While this makes beans beneficial for helping to reduce your risk of many types of cancer, specific research has suggested they are especially potent in preventing prostate cancer. As an added bonus, the high fiber content of beans has been connected with a lower risk of digestive cancers. Read about cool beans here.
The two most widely studied cancer-fighting compounds in berries are ellagic acid (richest in strawberries and raspberries) and anthocyanosides (richest in blueberries). Ellagic acid is believed to help prevent skin, bladder, lung, and breast cancers, both by acting as an antioxidant and by slowing the reproduction of cancer cells. The anthocyanosides in blueberries are currently the most powerful antioxidants known to scientists and are beneficial in the prevention of all types of cancer.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale)
Cruciferous vegetables — like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale — are rich in a variety of compounds that have been shown to slow cancer growth and development in a number of laboratory studies. Other larger human studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables can help to reduce the risk of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate, and bladder cancers.
4. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Leafy-green vegetables — like romaine lettuce, mustard greens, chicory, and Swiss chard — are rich sources of antioxidants called carotenoids. These compounds scavenge dangerous free radicals from the body before they can promote cancer growth. The vegetables are also rich in folate, a vitamin shown to reduce the risk of lung and breast cancer. Read more about gorgeous leafy greens!
Flaxseed in the form of oil and meal contains phytoestrogens believed to reduce the risk of breast, skin, and lung cancer. Research on the potency of flaxseed as an anti-cancer food is still underway.
6. Garlic (including onions, scallions, leeks, and chives)
Garlic contains a number of compounds believed to slow or stop the growth of tumors. One such compound, diallyl disulfide, appears to be especially potent in protecting against skin, colon, and lung cancer, though it is not known exactly how it functions.
Grapes and wine contain a chemical called resveratrol, which has been shown to be a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Resveratrol is thought to work by preventing cell damage before it begins. Red and purple grapes are the richest sources of resveratrol.
8. Green Tea (decaf)
Green tea is a rich source of a class of flavonoids known as catechins. Laboratory studies have shown that the catechins present in green tea are able to slow or prevent the development of cancer in colon, liver, breast, and prostate cells.
The anti-cancer compound in tomatoes, lycopene, has been shown to be especially potent in combating prostate cancer. This compound appears to be more easily absorbed if the tomatoes are eaten in cooked form-either as tomato sauce, paste, or juice. In addition to preventing prostate cancer, lycopene may also protect against breast, lung, stomach, and pancreatic cancer.
10. Whole Grains
Whole grains contain a variety of anti-cancer compounds, including fiber, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens. When eaten as part of a balanced diet, whole grains can help decrease the risk of developing most types of cancer.
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*Image of “grapes” via Shutterstock