From 2013 to 2017, more than 71,000 cases of cancer were reported in Singapore alone. In men, the most prominent was colorectal cancer (16.8%), and in women, breast cancer (29.4%).
Depending on factors like the type and stage, cancer or the big “C” can be potentially debilitating or fatal. Not only can it result in painful symptoms, but it also affects one’s life, disrupting studies or career and causing a dent in finances.
While there is no one way to totally prevent cancer, experts say you can take steps to reduce your risk; one of which is to have a healthy diet. But what foods should include in your meal plans?
18 Anti-Cancer Foods to Include in Your Diet
Cancer patients often need to make changes in their diet, so as to maintain strength, better tolerate the side-effects of medications, and recover faster.
What about a cancer prevention diet?
If you’re looking for anti-cancer foods, check out these 18 food items which show great potential in reducing your risk of developing the big C.
It seems like there’s some truth to the saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Apples contain polyphenols, plant-based compounds believed to have anti-cancer and tumour-fighting properties.
One report stated that the anti-cancer efficacy of polyphenols might be largely due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. Additionally, polyphenols can modulate factors related to cell survival and proliferation. Remember that cancer involves tumours that often result from uncontrollable cell growth.
2. Blueberries and Other Berries
You might also want to add blueberries, or any type of berry for that matter, to your shopping list.
One study showed that whole blueberry powder inhibited the metastasis (spread) of triple-negative breast cancer, a type of cancer that typically presents a poorer prognosis.
In another report, researchers found out that a compound in raspberry can lower the biomarkers, measurable substances indicative of a certain condition, for colon cancer.
We often top our desserts with cherries because they look decadent, but did you know that this fruit is also an anti-cancer food?
One in vitro (test tube) research showed that extract from cherries killed breast cancer cells. In another animal study, researchers noted that some cherry compounds could “reduce the proliferation” of human colon cancer cells.
4. Grapefruit and Other Citrus Fruits
According to experts, grapefruit is rich in various substances and compounds that may have anti-cancer properties. For instance, the vitamin C in grapefruits not only protects the cells from the harmful free radicals but also reinforces the antioxidant properties of vitamin E.
Another anti-cancer food you shouldn’t miss out on is grapes.
A paper titled, Anticancer and Cancer Chemopreventive Potential of Grape Seed Extract and Other Grape-Based Products, concluded that grapes and other grape-based products are “excellent sources of various anti-cancer agents”.
Sour with a touch of sweetness — this unique taste is what draws many people to oranges. What they don’t typically know is that this fruit can help to fight cancer!
A report has claimed that vitamin C might be a good adjuvant medicine along with some types of chemotherapy drugs to help induce cancer cell death. A separate study arrived at the same conclusion, but it was more focused on breast cancer cells.
Tomatoes may not be the fruit you’d go for desserts, but they sure add taste to a variety of dishes. The good news is, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which at least one report says can prevent and treat cancer.
Lycopene is a kind of carotenoid that is “generally associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancers,” probably because it is a potent antioxidant.
You might also hear that lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but as of this moment, we need more studies to prove the claim.
8. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies are part of the Brassica genus in plants. Some of the vegetables under this genus are bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and collard greens.
Researchers are looking into cruciferous vegetables because they contain many compounds that may prevent cancer. Case in point, they are rich in glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds that transform into substances like indoles and isothiocyanates when the vegetables are prepared, chewed, and digested.
In several studies, indoles and isothiocyanates are discovered to inhibit the development of certain types of cancer cells by:
- Protecting DNA from damages.
- Helping inactivate carcinogens, substances that can cause cancer.
- Inducing cell death (which might control tumour formation).
- Inhibiting the formation of blood vessels in the tumour.
Parents often encourage their kids to eat more carrots because they are good for the eyes, but as it turns out, that’s not the only thing that carrots are great for. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) even hails carrots as one of the food items to fight cancer.
In an article, NFRC mentioned that several studies now suggest that carrots, along with other non-starchy veggies, can reduce the risk of developing aerodigestive cancers in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lungs, stomach, and large intestine or colon. They also noted that carrots are associated with bladder and breast cancer prevention.
Flaxseeds are not a staple in many households, but if one member experiences constipation or high cholesterol, they might be familiar with it. Flaxseeds are rich in fibre and many people use them as a natural laxative or a means to reduce their cholesterol levels.
Now, though, you might have another reason to stock up on these plant-based seeds, as at least one report has stated that it might be able to stop breast tumor growth. In a report released by Oncology Nutrition, flaxseeds were able to “inhibit the growth of human-estrogen dependent breast cancer”. Furthermore, it also enforced the tumour-inhibiting property of tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent and treat breast cancer.
A common ingredient found in almost every household, garlic not only spices up your meals and lowers your blood pressure, but also has anti-cancer properties.
A scientific investigation noted how garlic extract enhanced the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. Moreover, it also affects proteins associated with cell growth and death, citing that garlic extract can reduce proliferation (growth) and induce apoptosis (death).
Another food that can potentially prevent cancer is legumes, which include beans, lentils, and peas.
An analysis of more than a dozen studies reported that higher legume consumption is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Another study concluded that a high intake of bean fibre reduced the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%.
13. Walnuts and Other Nuts
Our list of food items to prevent cancer would not be complete without mentioning walnuts and other nuts.
The American Cancer Research Institute said that all nuts can be an anti-cancer food, but researchers are looking more closely into walnuts because they contain pedunculagin. When we digest walnuts, our bodies convert pedunculagin into urolithins, which are substances associated with breast cancer prevention.
Furthermore, one study noted that subjects who received walnut oil have higher levels of tumour-suppressing genes than those who had vegetable oil.
Teas, or beverages made from boiled or steeped leaves, are almost as old as time itself. In some parts of the world, it’s a staple drink. For others, it’s a good way to lose weight or cleanse.
There are various kinds of tea; but in general, they share common compounds that make them good anti-cancer food.
Experts say that teas, especially green tea, contain compounds (polyphenols) that protect our DNA from free-radical damages. Moreover, polyphenols showed that they can trigger tumour cell apoptosis (death) and reduce tumour cell proliferation (growth).
15. Fatty Fish
Consuming fatty fish is linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colon and prostate cancers.
In a study involving Chinese participants, the researchers found out that those with higher consumption of freshwater fish had a 53% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. In another research with more than 60,000 participants, results showed that participants who took fish oil supplements at least 4 times weekly were 63% less likely to have cancer of the colon.
Finally, at least one report revealed that intake of fish oil was associated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.
Examples of fatty fish include anchovies, mackerel, and salmon.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which some people believe to be good anti-cancer food.
In one scientific investigation, researchers invited 44 patients who presented lesions in the colon that could become malignant later. They then gave the patients 4 grams of curcumin daily for 30 days. At the end of the study, results showed that the number of lesions went down by 40%.
Interestingly, an in vitro (test tube) study showed that curcumin reduced the spread of colon cancer cells.
Now, we need more human studies to confirm if cinnamon can be an anti-cancer food, but the current animal studies are promising.
Case in point, one research concluded that further analysis of the active components in cinnamon can lead to the formulation of a potent anti-tumour agent. This came after the investigators observed that cinnamon extract enhanced tumour cell death.
18. Whole grains
Last in our list of anti-cancer food items are whole grains, which we can obtain from brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread. Basically, whole grains are the counterpart of refined sugars or carbohydrates.
After reviewing epidemiologic studies, one paper stated that whole grains are “protective against cancer”, especially gastrointestinal cancers in the colon and stomach. The researchers then explained that whole grains potentially got their cancer-fighting properties from four mechanisms, namely:
- Their richness in dietary fibre.
- High antioxidant content.
- Phytoestrogen content, which is associated with cancer protection; and
- Their ability to modulate glucose response, which might protect against breast and colon cancers.
All the foods we mentioned above showed great potential in reducing cancer risk; hence, they would be great additions to your meal planning and grocery shopping. However, please do not think of them as superfoods that you should consume in large quantities.
For one, consuming too much of one kind of food leaves you less room for other nutrient-rich items. Remember: the keys to a healthy, balanced diet are variety and portioning.
Secondly, using several types of foods solely to prevent cancer might affect your health. To put things into perspective, garlic can interfere with some medications; similarly, too much caffeine from drinking tea can lead to anxiety.
For this reason, if you plan on taking supplements derived from any of the foods enumerated above, it is best to consult a doctor first. This is crucial, especially if you have an underlying health condition and are taking other medicines.
And finally, what you don’t eat is almost as crucial as what you consume. Various health agencies have pointed out that excessive consumption of processed meat can increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer.
The Next Steps
Besides having a healthy, balanced diet, experts also recommend doing the following to increase your chances of staying cancer-free:
- Have a balanced, healthy diet.
- Don’t smoke or quit smoking.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Achieve a healthy weight (diet and exercise help with this).
- Stay physically active.
- Protect yourself from the sun.
- Get vaccines for conditions that may lead to cancer (Hepatitis B and HPV).
- Refrain from risky practices (unsafe sex, etc.)
And, of course, don’t forget to show up to your regular body check-ups as they help keep you healthy and detect problems early on with screening tests such as mammogram, colorectal cancer screening and pap smear.
It would also be helpful to consult a doctor as soon as you notice any cancer warning signs like lumps, changes in body discharge, and wounds that don’t heal. This is because getting diagnosed as early as possible increases the chance of successful treatment and tends to have better long-term outcomes.
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