I live in Southern Louisiana and recently there have been several news reports about about a small area known as Cancer Alley,a vast industrial stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where dozens of petrochemical plants dot the landscape. It is known that air toxins can cause cancer, along with several other factors.
Cancer is a systemic disease with various causes, some of which include a poor diet, toxin exposure, nutrient deficiencies and to some extent genetics. While the EPA helps with fighting the air borne toxins, I wanted to look at ways I.. You.. US.. can help fight this disease on a daily basis. One extremely important way to prevent and/or treat cancer is nutritionally, through eating a nutrient-dense diet and avoiding things that are known to increase cancer risk.
I lost my mother in August 2010 to Metastatic Breast Cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2001 with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. Several bouts of chemo,radiation and a mastectomy gave us another 9 amazing years. Since she passed, I became focused on how cancer starts and what I changes I can make to hinder or prevent this. I wanted to dedicate this blog to her. So I have been researching several powerhouse foods that have been shown to combat cancer causing cells.
No single food or food component can protect you against cancer by itself. But research shows that a diet filled with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other plant foods helps lower risk for many cancers.
Foods Can Fight Cancer Both Directly …
In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals demonstrate anti-cancer effects. Evidence suggests it is the synergy of compounds in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.
… And Indirectly
AICR ( American Institute for Cancer Research)research finds that excess body fat increases the risk of 11 cancers. Vegetables and fruits are relatively low in calories. Whole grains and beans are rich in fiber, which also can help with weight management. That is one reason AICR recommends filling at least 2/3 of your plate with plant foods.
Research on foods that fight cancer – and that may also aid cancer survival – is ongoing and active.
What To Avoid
While we often think of the word “cancer” as one type of disease, this term actually encompasses over 100 different cellular disorders in the body. Cancer refers to uncontrolled cell division that leads to a tumor or abnormal cell growth. When abnormal cells divide without control, they can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body, including the blood and lymphatic systems.
What makes some foods carcinogens (in other words cancer-causing) and others cancer-fighters? Foods that potentially contribute to cancer can include any number of chemicals, pesticides, preservatives and additives. For example, these are some of the factors that cause certain foods to be very unhealthy— not only potentially increasing your risk for cancer, but also causing problems like allergies, leaky gut, obesity and inflammation:
- Pesticides & Herbicides: The best way to avoid consuming pesticides is to buy organic and ideally locally-grown foods.
- Animal Products with Antibiotics and/or Hormones: Buy pasture-fed, locally raised animal products that are labeled as hormone and antibiotic-free. Avoid Processed Meats.
- Added Sugar & Artificial Sweetners: Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine and sucralose may generate damaging free radicals in the body. This also includes high fructose corn syrup.
- Food Additives: Nitrates, sulfites, food dyes and coloring and MSG have all been linked to free radical damage in the body. The best way to avoid these is to stay away from products that contain unknown and unpronounceable ingredients.
What To Eat
Dark Leafy Greens
This cousin of kale has a long history as a deliciously nutritious herb and as a natural remedy for many ailments — and you’re probably most familiar with its use in salads, on sandwiches and as a lightly steamed side dish. So why, specifically, does the CDC consider it such a healthy food? There’s a vegetable out there so good for you that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies it as a “powerhouse” vegetable. I’m talking about watercress.
Leafy greens are the cornerstone of any healthy diet since they’re exceptionally rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, yet very low in calories, fats, sodium and other toxins. Leafy greens of all kinds — Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard all have some fiber, folate and a wide range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, along with saponins and flavonoids.
Think Juicing !!
Watercress is safe for most when used short term. When used in large amounts or long term, it may cause an upset stomach or kidney problems.
Watercress is is noted as unsafe for use as a medicine in children, in particular in those younger than the age of 4. Check with your doctor before using watercress if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. It’s also not recommended that you use watercress if you have stomach or intestinal ulcers.
Cruciferous vegetables are known to be powerful cancer killers and some of the best vitamin C foods widely available. Many are rich in glutathione, known as the body’s “master antioxidant” since it has high free-radical-scavenging abilities.
Nearly all are excellent or good sources of vitamin C and some are good sources of manganese. Dark greens are high in vitamin K.
Glucosinolates are compounds found in all cruciferous vegetables; Glucosinolates form isothiocyanates and indoles.
Other nutrients and phytochemicals vary:
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and rapini are all excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin.
- Broccoli is a good source of potassium.
- Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are good sources of dietary fiber and rich in magnesium.
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and rapini contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene.
- Red cabbage and radishes supply anthocyanins Other cruciferous vegetables provide different polyphenols, such as hydroxycinnamic acids, kaempferol and quercetin
Cauliflower is one of the most versatile vegetables in the cruciferous family and can be used to replace carbohydrates – anything from starchy potatoes to rice.
Cauliflower’s impressive array of nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals – help keep our immune system healthy and strong.
Studies have shown that eating three to five servings of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and kale each week can significantly lower your risk of developing cancer
Berries are especially rich in proanthocyanidin antioxidants, which have been observed to have anti-aging properties in several animal studies and are capable of lowering free radical damage. High amounts of phenols, zeaxanthin, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, lutein and polysaccharides are other berry benefits. Less familiar “superfoods” mulberry, camu camu and goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine since around 200 B.C. to increase immunity and energy, so look for those in powder or dried form in health food stores and online.
The blueberry is one of the few fruits native to North America. Native Americans used the berries and parts of the plant for medicine.Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, manganese and a good source of dietary fiber. Blueberries are among the fruits highest in antioxidant power, largely due to their many phytochemicals:
- Anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, kaempferol and other flavonoids
- Ellagitannins and ellagic acid
- Pterostilbene and resveratrol
Both sweet and tart cherries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and they contain potassium. Tart cherries, but not sweet cherries or tart cherry juice, are also an excellent source of vitamin A. Cherries contain a variety of phytochemicals contributing both color and antioxidant activity:
- The fruit’s dark red color comes from their high content of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants
- Hydroxycinnamic acid and perillyl alcohol, a phytochemical from the monoterpene family, provide cherries’ antioxidant power
These bright red gems are native to North America and at one time whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their ships to prevent scurvy. Cranberries are good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber. They're very high in antioxidant power,[3-5] most of which comes from phytochemicals:
- Flavonoids, including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols
- Ursolic acid
- Benzoic acid and hydroxycinnamic acid
Always delicious, there are now more reasons for you to eat these delicate fruits. Researchers found that strawberries slow down the growth of cancer cells, protect your body from heart disease, lower inflammation, prevent memory loss, and help you burn your body’s fat stores.
Ok.. technically NOT a berry, but I needed to put this beauty in here.
Both grapes and grape juice are rich sources of resveratrol, a phytochemical well studied for anti-cancer effects.The skin of the grape contains the most resveratrol. Resveratrol is in red, purple and green grapes, the amount depends much more on growing conditions than on color or type of grape.
Studies suggest that polyphenols in general and resveratrol, in particular, possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In laboratory studies, resveratrol prevented the kind of damage known to trigger the cancer process in cell, tissue and animal models
Brightly Orange-Colored Fruits and Veggies
Perfect time for a Smoothie???
Fruits and vegetables provide the essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals our bodies need to thrive. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help to reduce our risk of heart disease, eye disease, high blood pressure and stroke, ease digestive problems, aid in healthy weight management and prevent certain types of cancer.
Brightly colored pigments found in plant foods are a sure sign that they’re beaming with phytochemicals, especially carotenoid antioxidants. This is exactly the reason you want to “eat the rainbow” and vary the colors of the foods on your plate.
Carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin) are derivatives of vitamin A found in many citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, berries, pumpkin, squashes and other plant foods.
When it comes to carbohydrate-rich veggies, studies show that complex carbs, including sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, other tubers and whole-grain foods, is related to a reduced risk of several types of cancer, particularly of the upper digestive tract.
About one carrot --one-half cup chopped-- provides 200% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, some fiber and is a good source of vitamin K. Carrots contain phytochemicals that can act as antioxidants and in other ways. These include:
- Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene: carotenoids that our bodies convert to vitamin A, which is important for immune function, maintaining healthy cells and activating carcinogen-metabolizing enzymes among other roles
- Luteolin, a flavonoid phytochemical that shows antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects in laboratory studies, anti-cancer effects.
- Falcarinol and other polyacetylenes are under study for possible anti-inflammatory and other protective effects
- Purple carrots contain anthocyanins, which are flavonoids; red carrots are a source of lycopene, and yellow carrots contain lutein, both carotenoids.
Winter squash are excellent sources of vitamin A, good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber. They are also a good way to get potassium.
Winter squash, including pumpkins, are rich in carotenoids, including:
- beta-carotene and alpha-carotene: these carotenoids can act as antioxidants. Also, our bodies convert these to vitamin A, a nutrient important for immune function and maintaining healthy cells among other roles.
- lutein and zeaxanthin: these yellow pigmented carotenoids help protect eye health by filtering high-energy ultraviolet rays that can damage our eyes’ lens and retina. They act as antioxidants here and possibly elsewhere in our bodies.
Grapefruit may not be a miracle fat-burner as some claim, but as part of an overall healthy diet, its low calorie density can help promote healthy weight. And this tasty fruit is packed with vitamins and phytochemicals.
One-half of a medium grapefruit - red, pink and white - provides at least half of most adults’ daily vitamin C needs.
- Naringenin and other flavonoids
- Limonin and other limonoids
- Beta-carotene and lycopene (pink and red varieties)
***Grapefruit can interfere with the activity of some medicines, both prescription and non-prescription.
Ok.. Not technically Orange ( although heirlooms can be). These little guys can pack a powerful punch.
It’s all about the lycopene – the antioxidant that causes the red color of tomatoes – a powerful antioxidant known for preventing the formation of certain cancers. They also lower your risk of heart disease and are naturally anti-inflammatory. The secret to getting the full benefits of tomatoes lies in the preparation. Lycopene is released when tomatoes are cooked. In fact, canned tomatoes have even higher concentrations of lycopene than fresh.
In addition to beta-carotene, tomatoes contain a number of other carotenoids:
- Lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color. Red tomatoes, sauces and other tomato products are by far our top source of lycopene
- Phytoene and phytofluene, colorless carotenoids that are precursors of lycopene
Anyone else craving a good marinara sauce??
Fresh Herbs and Spices
Contains the active ingredient curcumin, is one of the most powerful ingredients in an anti-cancer diet because it’s been shown to decrease tumor size and fight colon and breast cancer.
Along with easy-to-use black pepper, turmeric absorption is enhanced and better able to fight inflammation. Aim for one teaspoon of turmeric powder and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper or more daily, which can easily be used in a tonic drink, with eggs or in a veggie stir fry. You can also take curcumin supplements; aim for 1,000 milligrams daily.
Garlic is a staple ingredient in many cuisines around the world and in many cultures, people have used it as a medicine
Along with the other relatives in the allium family – such as onions, leeks, and shallots – garlic contains powerful antioxidants like allicin, proven to remove free radicals from your body. It also boosts immunity, is nutrient dense, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improves brain function, and is a natural detoxifier. Chop or crush garlic, allow to rest, then use it raw or in your favorite recipes.
- Allicin: a bioactive compound released when garlic is crushed or chopped. Allicin forms several oil soluble allyl sulfur compounds; research has focused on a few of these compounds for potential health benefits. These benefits may include decreasing inflammation and possessing antimicrobial properties.
- S-allyl cysteine: A water-soluble allyl sulfur compound found in high doses in aged garlic extract.
- Flavonoids, especially kaempferol and quercetin: compounds well studied for their anti-cancer properties.
- Inulin: A plant storage carbohydrate that stimulates growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon, helping to protect against pathogens, toxins and carcinogens.
- Saponins: Compounds studied for anti-tumor activity.
The catechins found in green tea have made it a superstar in the cancer-fighting food research. They are believed to be more powerful than vitamin C in fighting free radical damage. In multiple lab studies, this delicious beverage has been shown to shrink existing tumors and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Many experts suggest green tea daily as a natural cancer preventative.
The amount of these compounds and nutrients in your cup of tea varies with the type of tea and how you prepare it. Tea contains:
- Caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant that affects the central nervous system, and related compounds called theophylline and theobromine
- Catechins - polyphenol compounds studied for possible health benefits. They include:
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which dominates in green tea
- Epicatechin, epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG) and others
- Thearubigins and theaflavins, polyphenols higher in black tea, and theasinensins in oolong tea
- Flavonols quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin
- L-theanine, an amino acid uniquely found in green tea
- Manganese and fluoride
Coffee, alternately touted as medicinal and denounced as health destroying over the centuries, has become one of the most popular drinks in the world today.
What you get in your cup of coffee varies with how the beans are grown and how you prepare it. Overall, coffee is a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin, and is also a concentrated source of antioxidant phytochemicals.
- Chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant compound that is the major phenol in coffee
- Quinic acid, a phytochemical that contributes to the acidic taste of coffee
- Cafestol and kahweol, compounds that are extracted from the beans' oil during brewing. Unfiltered coffee, such as French press or boiled coffee, contains these compounds
- Caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant that affects the central nervous system
- N-methylpyridinium (NMB), created by roasting, may make the antioxidants more potent
Nuts & Legumes
Kidney and black beans, yellow split peas and red lentils are among the thousands of colorful foods called pulses. Pulses - seeds of legumes that use nitrogen from the atmosphere to make protein - are an important protein source worldwide
Dry beans and peas are rich in fiber (20% of Daily Value) and a good source of protein (10% of Daily Value). They are also an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin.
Pulses contain other health-promoting substances that may also protect against cancer:
- Lignans and saponins
- Resistant starch, starch not digested in the small intestine, is used by healthful bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids, which seem to protect colon cells.
- Antioxidants from a variety of phytochemicals, including triterpenoids, flavonoids, inositol, protease inhibitors and sterols.
Beans are an extremely versatile food and can be served in many ways— from soups and chilis to salads, veggie burgers and enchiladas to desserts like brownies, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
Flaxseed, flaxseed oil and linen are all products of flax, one of the first crops to be domesticated. Flaxseed has long been used for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
Today, it is being touted for many health benefits and researchers are studying flaxseed and its oil to sort through the many claims.
Flaxseed is an excellent source of magnesium, manganese and thiamin, and fiber; a good source of selenium; and provides protein and copper, too.
- Lignans: flaxseed is a particularly rich source of these plant estrogens
- Dietary fiber: One serving, about 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, contains more than 7 grams of fiber.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): about half of the fat in flaxseed is this plant form of omega-3 fat.
- Gamma-tocopherol: a form of vitamin E
Flaxseed oil provides alpha-linolenic acid and both alpha- and gamma-tocopherol, two forms of vitamin E. It is not a source of fiber, selenium or the other nutrients noted above. It does not naturally contain lignans, though some brands contain added lignans.
Choose from brown rice, oatmeal, corn, whole-wheat bread, barley, bulgur, kasha, millet, sorghum, farro and more. The fiber-rich bran, nutrient-packed germ and starchy endosperm are all natural parts that remain in whole grains. Refined grains lack the bran and germ, while whole grains provide more nutrition, fiber and health-promoting phytochemicals.
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and magnesium and provide some protein. Individual whole grains vary; several types are also good sources of manganese, thiamin, nicain, vitamin B-6 and/or selenium.
A variety of healthful compounds in whole grains combine to make these foods high in potential anti-cancer activity.
- Dietary Fiber is present in all whole grains.
- Resistant Starch is a type of starch that our body does not digest.
- Polyphenols occur in whole grains, including phenolic acids and flavonoids.
- Lignans are a polyphenol compound.
- Saponins are compounds being studied for their anticancer properties.
- Alkylresorcinols are phenolic lipids found only in the outer parts of wheat and rye grains.
- Phytic acid, present in grains and legumes, is being studied in the prevention of cancer.
- Protease inhibitors may prevent cancer cells from spreading.
- Tocotrienols are compounds similar to the tocopherols.
Black walnuts are American natives, but English walnuts have become one of the most popular nuts in the United States. Although all nuts fit into a cancer-preventive diet, walnuts are most studied for cancer. They contain the omega-3 fat – alpha-linolenic acid – which can make walnuts more susceptible to becoming rancid. That's why you won’t find them in most commercial nut mixes.
Walnuts contain high amounts of polyphenols, phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties. They also contain a broad range of other potentially protective compounds:
- Elligitannins, which are broken down to ellagic acid
- Gamma-tocopherol, one of several types of vitamin E compounds
- Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid
- Polyphenols including flavonoids and phenolic acids
- Phytosterols, plant compounds known to help lower blood cholesterol that are under study for their potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
- Melatonin, a hormone and antioxidant
Walnuts are an excellent source of copper and manganese, and a good source of magnesium.
Tofu, tempeh, edamame, soymilk and miso are a few of the soy foods people around the world enjoy every day. Soy is one of the few plant foods with all the amino acids your body needs to make protein.
Soy foods are good sources of protein, and many are also good sources of fiber, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese. Soy foods contain significant iron, but it's not clear how well our bodies absorb it. Soymilk, tofu made with calcium, and soybeans are good sources of calcium. Soy is also a good source of polyunsaturated fat, both the omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) types.
Soy contains a variety of phytochemicals and active compounds:
- Isoflavones: a group of phytoestrogens that includes genistein, daidzein and glycitein
- Saponins: studies suggest these compounds may lower blood cholesterol, protect against cancer and affect blood glucose levels
- Phenolic Acids: this group of phytochemicals is being studied for their potential to stop cancer cells from spreading
- Phytic Acid: commonly found in cereals and legumes, it can act as an antioxidant
- Enzyme-regulating proteins: these include protease inhibitors and protein kinase inhibitors
- Sphingolipids: they seem to play a role in regulating cell growth, self-destruction of abnormal cells and progression of tumors
What's a serving?
- 1 cup soy milk
- 1/2 cup cooked soy beans
- 1/3 cup or 1 oz. soy nuts
Just a little something extra, like we say in the South. Check out these links for some more tips and tidbits.
Check out this article from the National Foundation for Cancer Research and learn more about all the foods in depth.. plus get some quick, easy and DELICIOUS recipes.
MD Anderson provides a checklist for your next grocery trip.
This concludes another installment of The Crunchy Corner. We hope you have found the information as useful as we did. Again, we are not making any medical claims and urge everyone to Think For Yourself when making any decisions about your health and well-being.
Until Next Time... Stay Crunchy