Fight off Potential Health Scares with These Cancer-Fighting Fares
Written by Amber Lanier Nagle
Mere mention of the “C” word strikes terror in us all. We all know a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor who is currently battling cancer, has survived cancer, or died from cancer.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 13 million Americans are currently living with or have survived cancer, and another 1.6 million of us will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
But researchers are hopeful. They are finding that Mother Nature loaded many of her best cancer-fighting weapons in the foods we eat. Though no panacea exists — no single fruit or vegetable that can deliver total protection — studies show diets rich in particular foods may help us lower our risk.
We asked local cancer specialists and dietitians to name one or more foods that may have the ability to prevent or slow the progression of cancer. Here are the all-stars they recommend to their patients.
Cancer-fighting agents: Lignans, fiber, Omega-3 essential fatty acids
May help fight: Breast and prostate cancers
“I recommend consuming cold-milled, ground flaxseed — maybe two to three tablespoons per day,” remarked Anup Lahiry, M.D., an oncologist and hematologist at the Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
Ground flaxseed is a highly concentrated source of secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG) lignans, which are phytonutrients — plant-based micronutrients that offer many health benefits and may help stave off cancer.
Lahiry suggests adding ground flaxseed to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, smoothies, casseroles, chili and dark sauces.
Cancer-fighting agents: Capsaicin
May help fight: Prostate, stomach, and lung cancers; and leukemia
“[Hot] red peppers contain capsaicin, a cancer-fighting component abundant in paprika, chili peppers, cayenne peppers and other hot peppers,” said Colleen McCarthy, a registered and licensed dietitian at On Pointe Nutrition in Alpharetta.
She cites a 2006 study published in The Journal of Cancer Research by Akio Mori and others suggesting that capsaicin has a role in the management of prostate cancer, though the American Cancer Society reports that further studies are necessary to truly determine the effect on cancer in humans.
The hotter peppers — the torturous ones — contain the most capsaicin and may pack the biggest cancer-fighting punches.
Cancer fighting agents: Alpha-carotene, beta carotene
May help fight: Prostate and other cancers
Sweet potatoes, along with other foods rich in carotene (such as carrots, pumpkin and winter squash) may help reduce the risk of many types of cancer through their potent antioxidant capacity.
“Consuming these foods may provide an anti-cancer effect by reducing the free radical oxidation rates of cells,” said Colleen McCarthy. “Eating a wide variety of foods rich in carotenoids will provide a better effect than a single consumption of one type of food rich in carotene.”
Cancer-fighting agents: Dietary fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids, ellagic acid and anthocyanosides
May help fight: Cancers of the colon and rectum and possibly cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung and stomach
“Blueberries seem to be on the top of everyone’s super food list, and for good reason,” said Rachel White, an oncology registered dietitian with the Well-Star Cancer Network. “Not only are blueberries excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and fiber, but also powerful phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and resveratrol.”
At about 80 calories per cup, blueberries are tasty whether washed and eaten by the handful or mixed in oatmeal, tossed atop cereal or blended into a smoothie.
Cancer-fighting agents: Dietary fiber, folate, lignans, flavonoids and inositol
May help fight: Colon, rectum, breast, prostate and pancreas cancers
Legumes, which include black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils, soybeans, and other beans, contain an abundance of health-promoting substances that may protect humans from cancer.
“Uncooked, dried beans and canned beans provide the same benefits,” noted Rachel White. “If you choose canned beans, it’s best to go with those without added salt or drain and rinse them to remove as much sodium as possible. Legumes are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins and phytochemicals and make delicious soups, salads and dips.”
ACTIVE CULTURE YOGURT
Cancer-fighting agents: Lactobacillus acidophilus and calcium
May help fight: Colon and bladder cancers
“Yogurt with active cultures [containing living micro-organisms] is a probiotic that enhances healthy gut bacteria and the gut immune system,” remarked Daniel Dubovsky, M. D., an oncologist at Atlanta Cancer Care, a medical practice affiliated with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.
“In 2011, Pala [et al] published data indicating yogurt intake was associated with decreased colorectal cancer risk. And Larsson, from the Karolinska Institutet [in Sweden], reported lower bladder cancer rates associated with the consumption of yogurt and cultured milk products,” he continued.
Cancer-fighting agents: Dietary fiber, sulforaphane, indoles, phenols, folate, vitamin C and glucosinolates
May help fight: Colorectal, stomach, bladder, breast and lung cancers
All cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, turnips) boast impressive cancer-fighting properties, but broccoli is a superstar.
“Because of its fiber content, broccoli has a strong link to colorectal cancer prevention — especially in younger patients and those with histories of smoking,” said Laura Pearson, M.D., the medical director for North Fulton Hospital’s breast health program.
“It contains sulfur compounds that act as antioxidants and rid the body of carcinogens and indoles that help block estrogen receptors which are important in hormone-sensitive breast cancers. It also contains phenols that scavenge freeradicals thought to be culprits in cancer formation.”
Pearson warns her patients that an all-broccoli diet will not cure cancer. “Eat a variety of fresh, colorful, minimally-cooked fruits and vegetables,” she stressed. “A cheesy broccoli casserole tastes good, but steaming it or adding uncooked broccoli to a salad are better choices for disease prevention.”
Cancer-fighting agents: Polyphenols, in particular the catechins and the amino acid, theanine
May help fight: Stomach, esophageal, ovarian, colon and other cancers
Green tea, as well as other teas, contains catechins, compounds that scientists believe may help stop the growth of cancer cells and prevent cell mutations that contribute to cancer development.
“Modern studies in both Asia and the West have shown encouraging results indicating that green tea contributes to fighting stomach, esophageal, ovarian and colon cancers,” Strattner said. “It’s a great low-calorie beverage to sip on throughout the day.”
Cancer-fighting agents: Glutathione, alpha lipoic acid, and the carotenoids beta carotene and lutein
May help fight: Colon, prostate, stomach and breast cancers
“There are about 90 publications so far regarding spinach and cancer with the most encouraging results noted in studies focusing on breast and prostate cancers,” Strattner said. “It affects cancer cell survival and inhibits inflammation.” She suggests topping sandwiches and burgers with spinach, adding leaves to omelets, or including some strawberries and watermelon to a bowl of the leafy greens to sweeten up the dish.
Cancer-fighting agent: Curcumin
May help fight: Lung, breast, ovarian, gastrointestinal, and other cancers; leukemia; and melanoma
Turmeric, the yellow spice found in Indian curries, contains the powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant, curcumin. “There’s a study from 2008 [P. Anand and others in Cancer Letters] suggesting curcumin may slow or prevent tumor growth,” noted Colleen McCarthy. Consider adding a dash of turmeric to soups, vegetables, and salad dressings, but a word of caution — consult with your doctor first because turmeric may interfere with other medications.
“Consuming certain foods alone can not stave off cancer,” emphasized Anup Lahiry, M.D., an oncologist and hematologist at the Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. “If you want to try to reduce your risk, you must change your entire lifestyle.”
Here are a few cancer-fighting tips he shares with his own patients:
• Avoid tobacco products. Don’t smoke it, chew it, or eat it.
• Avoid alcohol consumption. But for those who do drink, men should not have more than two drinks per day, and women should not have more than one drink each day.
• Reduce consumption of processed foods. Food from a plant is good. Food made in a plant is not so good. And he suggests completely avoiding processed meats like deli meats and hot dogs.
• Avoid high-calorie, sugary drinks and foods. Ultra-sugary drinks and foods cause blood sugar to go up, which causes insulin levels to rise suddenly, which can trigger cancer cells to become more active. These drinks and foods are also linked to obesity, which can cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other life-altering illnesses.
• Eat a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables. Your plate should always look like a rainbow of fall colors in reds, greens, yellows, and oranges.
• Exercise. Exercising stabilizes insulin levels in our bodies, reduces inflammation, reduces stress, and makes us feel happy.