“You are what you eat.”
This phrase is often forgotten in today’s fast food world. Diet plays an important role in all aspects of health, but can become even more important during the cancer journey, from diagnosis, through treatment and recovery and on into survivorship.
Recent evidence suggests that mediterranean type diet may modify the risk of developing many cancers as well as in developing diabetes and heart disease. For example, intake of dietary fiber and higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, and fish, has been associated with reduced risk of some cancers [i].
Another popular phrase, coined over 2000 years ago by Hippocrates, states “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food.” There has been much research that indicates that plant foods — “Nature’s Pharmacy” — can influence gene function and impact on our health.
Plant based foods, although not studied in humans yet, are showing very promising physiological results when it comes to slowing or stopping growth of cancer cells. Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals; both linked to lower incidence of cancers. Vegetables and fruits like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, papaya, and tomatoes, berries, garlic and green tea and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, and broccoli, are foods that play a large part in providing the cancer fighting compounds [ii].
So what are some of the most promising and important fruits and vegetables to include in your cancer fighting diet? Read about the most effective ‘drugs’ within nature’s pharmacy:
Scientists have recently found that lycopene, the chemical that gives tomatoes their red color, works to destroy oral cancer cells in the laboratory. Some scientists believe that lycopene strengthens the body’s natural ability to kill of cells that are not developing properly [iii].
Blueberries are one of the richest sources of ellagic acid. There have been many studies done that have demonstrated that people who consume foods high in ellagic acid are three times less likely to develop cancer when compared to those who consume very little of this phytonutrient [iv].
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a mineral that has been shown to lower cancer risk in animals. They are also rich in fiber, protein, and ellagic acid [v].
4. Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, is a great source of Vitamin C, carotenoids, fiber, calcium and folate.
Flaxseeds are excellent sources of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds are rich source of lignans, phytochemicals with beneficial antioxidant and phytoestrogenic properties [vi].
Whole plant foods contain a wide array of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which provide our bodies with balanced nutrition – nature’s way of keeping us healthy and fight disease. By adopting a whole foods approach to eating, we can ensure an optimal intake of these powerful nutrients. A cancer-fighting diet that is concentrated in a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, tea, nuts, and seeds is best.
[i] Bloomfield H. et al. (2015). Benefits and Harms of the Mediterranean Diet compared to other diets. Department of Veteran Affairs. Accessed at: https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih gov.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/pubmedhealth/PMH0089086/pdf/PubMedHealth_PMH0089086.pdf
[ii] Gupta, P; Kim, B; Kim, S; Srivastava, S. Molecular targets of isothiocyanates in cancer: recent advances. (2014). Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 58, Pp 1685-1707
[iii] American Institute for Cancer Research “Foods that Fight Cancer – Tomatoes” Accessed at: http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/tomatoes.html Accessed November 28, 2016.3.
[iv] American Institute for Cancer Research “Foods that Fight Cancer – Blueberries” Accessed at: http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/blueberries.html Accessed November 28, 20164.
[v] K. Marek et al. (2016). Current knowledge on the importance of selenium in food for living organisms: A review. Molecules. 21; 609.
[vi] American Institute for Cancer Research “Foods that Fight Cancer – Flaxseed” Accessed at: http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/flaxseed.html Accessed November 28, 2016.