Can a Healthy Diet Protect You From Cancer?
The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 34 percent of cancers are linked to lifestyle factors, including diet. But the good news is that countless studies have identified evidence of anti-cancer effects in many foods. So next time you go to the supermarket, make a point of adding the following foods to your basket—eating them on a regular basis may help you reduce your risk of developing several types of cancer.
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May protect against: Advanced prostate cancer
Works because: The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and bluefish, have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Men who consume fatty fish regularly appear to lower their risk of the disease. A diet higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids, like the omega-3s, tend to be lower in saturated fats, which are linked to increased risk of certain cancers.
May protect against: Many cancers including lung, colon, breast, bladder, prostate
Works because: The slightly bitter flavor of broccoli—and its cousins Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower—is thought to be the main reason for its impressive track record deterring cancer. In lab studies the bitter chemicals isothiocyanates and glucosinolates actually interfere with cancer progression by activating enzymes that inhibit cancer cells, and suppressing those that promote cancer.
May protect against: Breast and colon cancers
Works because: Also called linseeds, flax seeds contain lignans, plant estrogens that can alter natural estrogen metabolism in a way that may protect against breast cancer. Additionally, like all high-fiber foods, flax seeds have a positive overall effect on bowel health. Lab studies suggest that the lignans, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber in flax seeds could help protect against colon cancer.
May protect against: Many cancers, including bladder, stomach and colon
Works because: The most important anti-cancer compound in green tea, EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is a powerful antioxidant that appears to stop damage at a genetic level in lab cultures. In studies with animals it also stops tumors from forming their own blood supply network, which means they can’t grow. Green tea is lower in caffeine than black tea or coffee, but drinking large amounts can still lead to problems such as trouble sleeping and nausea.
Oranges and Carrots
May protect against: Lung and several other cancers
Works because: Oranges and carrots are rich, respectively, in the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene. All fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which appear to protect cells by neutralizing free radicals, molecules that cause damage that can lead to cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to reduced levels of lung and other cancers. However, taking beta-carotene in supplement form has not been found to be protective against cancer. In fact, beta-carotene supplements increased the risk of lung cancer and death in smokers in a large study.
May protect against: Breast and prostate cancers
Works because: The isoflavones contained in soy beans have a gently estrogen-mimicking effect in the body. This may help block the effects of stronger estrogens, both natural and those from environmental chemicals from sources such as plastics and pesticides. This may reduce the risk of hormone-linked cancers in both women and men. Asian populations who eat tofu regularly have lower risks of these cancers. Tofu also contains powerful antioxidants that may help keep other cancers at bay. Tofu and other whole soy foods seem to offer protection, but highly processed soy, such as in supplements, has not been shown to reduce cancer risk.
May protect against: Prostate and possibly other cancers
Works because: The compound in tomatoes thought to be key is lycopene, a potent free-radical scavenger. Lycopene inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells in lab studies and is associated with lower prostate cancer risk in men with high intakes of tomato products. Interestingly, blood levels of lycopene are much higher when tomatoes have been cooked than when eaten raw. This is because lycopene is made more absorbable by processing and heating, so tomato sauce or paste may provide greater amounts of lycopene. It is even better to include a little olive oil when cooking with or consuming tomatoes because the fat increases absorption further.
May protect against: Colon and breast cancers.
Works because: Fiber found in whole-grain bread and cereal is important for digestive and hormonal health. The fiber gives the colon something "to work with" and also promotes activity of good bowel bacteria. Diets high in fiber may also contribute to lower estrogen levels. In addition to fiber, whole grains are rich in several other compounds that have been linked to reduced cancer risk. Fiber-rich cereals include bran flakes, oatmeal and granola, though it is best to choose low-salt and low-sugar versions.
May protect against: Colon and breast cancers
Works because: Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria found in live yogurt, promote good digestive health and may boost the performance of the immune system. In animal studies, regular yogurt intake has been shown to increase levels of immune anti-cancer compounds such as interferon and natural killer cells. Look for yogurt containing live, active cultures.
May protect against: Many cancers including stomach, colon, mouth and throat
Works because: The smelly compounds in garlic are potent anti-cancer agents. All of the onion family, including leeks and shallots, contain these compounds, too. In lab studies, chemically induced cancers were interrupted by the active compounds formed from allicin (which comes from garlic). Studies in humans show a lower risk of several common cancers in those who eat lots of garlic, compared to those who eat none. To get the most out of garlic, chop or crush the clove and eat it raw or cook it lightly.
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