YOU may have heard survivors say that one of the first things they did when they were diagnosed with cancer was change their diets. Some may opt to go meatless, while others just choose to have more balanced diets. While there is no food that can guarantee that you won't get cancer, several types of foods have been proven to reduce the risk for certain cancers, and even help build the immune system.
Registered nutritionist and senior lecturer and head of the School of Allied Health and Wellness at The University of Technology, Jamaica, Vanessa White-Barrow, said that while it is always encouraged for everyone, regardless of age or health status, to get nutrients from each food group in adequate portions, there are some foods that are known for their cancer-fighting properties.
She shares some of these foods that you can grab on your next market run
Green, leafy veggies
We can't say it enough: eat your vegetables. White-Barrow says that in addition to the variety of vitamins and minerals they contain, different vegetables have other chemicals that have been shown to reduce the risk of developing various cancers.
“Some of these chemicals are antioxidants, which prevent naturally occurring processes in the body which produce free radical chemicals that damage cells and lead to cancer formation,” she explains. “The phytochemical sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, has been seen in experimental studies to reduce the rate of development and destroy breast and prostate cancer cells.”
Yes, eat more vegetables, and go crazy with the colours. Not only do they look good on the plate, but they are very good for you. “Observational studies have consistently shown that consumption of antioxidants in carrots, such as beta carotene, are associated with reducing the risk of developing stomach, prostate and lung cancers,” White-Barrow says. “Tomatoes, when cooked or made into a paste such as ketchup, provides the red pigment lycopene, which has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant.” This antioxidant has been associated with protection against the development of prostate and lung cancer.
Nuts, peas and beans
“Consumption of insoluble fibre in plant-based foods, such as legumes, especially cooked, dried beans, have also been seen to be protective against developing colorectal cancer cells,” the nutritionist points out. “Red kidney beans and pinto beans are also sources of protective antioxidants.”
She adds that nuts such as walnuts have also been shown to reduce the rate of growth of cancer cells.
Grapes and other berries
White-Barrow notes that the seeds, as well as wines and juice made from red grapes, have been found to contain the antioxidant activin, while the skin is rich in the antioxidant resveratrol, both of which have been found to protect against some types of cancer by preventing the growth of cancerous cells. “Some berries, such as blueberries, also contain phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which experimental studies have revealed can slow the growth and rate of spread of some types of cancer cells of the mouth, oesophagus and colon,” she adds.
There's no need to be picky, though, all fruits are your friends. They are not only rich in antioxidants to fight free radicals, but they energise your body to ward off illnesses with loads of vitamin C. “Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons and limes, are also high in the antioxidant nutrient vitamin C and insoluble fibres that protect against some cancers,” the nutritionist mentions. “Pink guava and watermelon also contain the antioxidant lycopene.”
Oils containing monounsaturated fats
You may have heard that oil is bad for your health, but there are some oils that can actually help protect you from cancer, when consumed in moderation. “Olive oil and avocado pear provide monounsaturated fats, whose consumption has been found to lower the risk of developing cancers,” the nutritionist says.
Onion and garlic
“These bulbs, when used in cooking, have been found to release active cancer-fighting chemicals, such as quercetin from onions and the sulphur containing compounds such as allicin and diallyl sulphide in garlic,” White-Barrow says. “These chemicals prevent the formation of nitrosamines, which promote the formation of cancerous cells in the breasts, stomach, colon and liver.”
That's right. It not only makes everything smell and taste better, but it can help to make you better, too. “Experimental studies have shown that cinnamon helped to prevent the spread of cancer cells and another study showed that cinnamon extract led to the destruction of cancer cells,” she says.
White-Barrow notes that experimental studies have shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, slowed the spread of colon cancer cells by targeting an enzyme that promotes their growth. “It is suggested that one will get the best effect if they use half to three teaspoons of ground turmeric per day. Using it with black pepper helps to boost its absorption,” she recommends.
White-Barrow says a cup of green tea (camellia sinensis) provides antioxidants called catechins and epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a chemical that has been shown to prevent the growth of some cancer cells of the breast, pancreas, lungs and liver.