Foods that are anti-cancer
MMost people know that there are certain steps you can take to safeguard yourself from different kinds of cancer.
For example, it’s widely known that refraining from smoking cuts down your odds of getting lung cancer, that preventive screenings like colonoscopies that can detect polyps that doctors can remove before they become cancerous can diminish your chances of contracting colorectal cancer, and that regular dermatology check-ups can protect you from the most serious consequences of skin cancer by detecting the disease early, allowing for timely treatment.
Eating a healthy diet can also help shield you from cancer, says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Miami who’s a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
While no single food is going to provide 100% protection from any type of cancer, research suggests that an anti-cancer foods list would lean heavily toward plant-based foods. Avoiding processed meats is also recommended in accordance with a plant-based diet by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Kimberlain recommends eating five or more servings a day of plant foods and consuming 30 grams of fiber daily. It’s a good idea to include one or a combination of fruit, legumes and pulses, whole grains, and nonstarchy vegetables in each meal.
“Eating a balanced, varied diet is what’s shown to reduce the risk for cancer more than any one specific food,” she says.
10 Anti-Cancer Foods
Here are 10 foods that are anti-cancer:
Acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries are small, but pack a nutritional punch, Kimberlain says.
It’s important to eat a variety of berries because each type of berry has a different variety of protective compounds, she says. For example, strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, while blackberries (which also contain a healthy amount of vitamin C) have lots of vitamin K.
Broccoli and Other Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants that research suggests protecting healthy cells from disease caused by free radicals. Cruciferous veggies also have healthy amounts of vitamin C, which also helps shield healthy cells from free radicals. These types of vegetables also contain glucosinolates, natural compounds that help inhibit cancer enzymes and shield the body from inflammatory diseases, Kimberlain says.
Cruciferous vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts.
- Mustard greens.
Your morning cup (or cups) of joe may not only help you get going in the morning, but research suggests it may also help protect you from cancer, says Maxine Smith, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. In particular, coffee may help guard against liver cancer by decreasing inflammation and injury to liver cells.
Research published in 2020 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that 16 different studies, including eight meta-analyses, “support an inverse association between coffee and cancer risk.” The meta-analyses consistently concluded that increasing coffee consumption by a cup of the day was associated with a 15% to 20% risk reduction of hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
Legumes are shrubs, trees, and herbs that grow leafy stalks and reproduce flowers that produce edible fruit shaped like pods. Pulses are the edible seeds of a legume.
- Dry beans.
Adding spice cumin to your food can not only make it tastier but may help ward off cancer. Research suggests that thymoquinone, the most abundant component of black cumin seed oil, has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that can help ward off cancer, says Julia S. Marandi, a clinical dietitian at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
Research published in May 2022 in Sage Journals found that thymoquinone and curcumin are associated with the death of breast cancer cells. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a separate spice. Turmeric is a mustard-yellow spice often used in yellow curry. Researchers concluded that the findings suggest that thymoquinone and curcumin could provide a “promising anti-cancer benefit against breast cancer.”
You can add cumin to:
Consuming garlic and other allium vegetables are associated with a lower risk of cancer in both men and women, according to research published in 2019 in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology.
In addition to garlic, allium vegetables include:
- Spring onions.
Legumes and Pulses
High in fiber, lean protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, legumes and pulses are good anti-cancer foods, Kimberlain says. “Additionally, pulses specifically contain resistant starch, which we don’t completely digest,” she says. “Because of this, it passes on to the colon where our gut bacteria then uses it like a fermentable fiber. This forms short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have health benefits.”
Research suggests that foods high in dietary fiber decrease the risk of colon cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Such foods also help reduce the risk of obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Consuming mushrooms is associated with a lower risk of cancer, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Advances in Nutrition in 2021. Researchers reviewed 17 studies between 1966 and 2020. Mushrooms contain an antioxidant, ergothioneine, that helps protect cells from damage associated with increased cancer risk, Kimberlain says.
“The association between higher mushroom consumption and lower risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, may indicate a potential protective role for mushrooms in the diet,” researchers wrote.
Consuming olive oil is associated with a decreased risk for cancer, according to a large meta-analysis published in PLoS One, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal. “Olive oil consumption seems to exert beneficial actions in terms of cancer prevention,” researchers wrote.
There are several types of olive oil available on U.S. store shelves, including:
- Extra-virgin olive oil.
- Olive oil is also sometimes known as pure olive oil.
- Extra-light olive oil.
This fruit contains lycopene, which is a carotenoid shown to fight cancer and what gives the tomato its red color, Kimberlain says. It’s important to keep in mind you have to cook tomatoes to release the lycopene and make it available to the body to use.
A large meta-analysis published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients suggests that consuming whole grains is associated with a decreased cancer risk. Whole-grain foods are high in fiber, which helps promote satiety and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Foods with whole grains include:
- Whole-wheat bread.