Nutrition and Fitness, Your Health Lindsay Guinaugh | 7 years ago

9 Foods that Fight Cancer

Research studies indicate that some foods may be better than others when it comes to fighting cancer. And just as there are cancer-fighting foods, there are also certain foods that may increase your risk of developing cancer.

“In general, the most important thing a person can do to prevent cancer is to avoid being overweight,” said Pat Fogarty MS, RDN, LDN, Outpatient Wellness Dietitian with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute. “Leading a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight puts a person at risk of developing at least eight different cancers. A healthy, cancer-prevention diet provides the right number of calories, is low in fat and high in fiber, relies on lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and beans and minimizes alcohol. If you’re concerned about cancer prevention, take control of your diet early in life to lower your overall risk.”

9 Foods to Focus On


Berries are rich sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which play a role in reducing oxidation and perhaps cancer cell formation. In research studies, the ellagic acid in strawberries and raspberries has been shown to be helpful in neutralizing harmful carcinogens in cancers of the skin, bladder, lungs, esophagus and breasts. As a bonus, berries are packed with fiber.


Compared with those who don't drink tea, regular drinkers of all types of tea – including green and black - are at a lower risk of certain cancers, including lung and ovarian cancer. “The polyphenol ECGC in green tea and the theaflavins and thearubigins in black teas are antioxidants that may inhibit tumor cell production,” said Fogarty. Tea is one of the few foods that provides manganese, a trace mineral that builds strong teeth and bones.


Chock full of a cancer-fighting compound called allicin, garlic and its allium family relatives (onions, leeks, scallions and chives) may help fight prostate, bladder, skin, colon and lung cancer. Let chopped garlic sit for a few minutes before cooking to maximize the cancer-fighting compound.

Dark-Green Leafy Vegetables:

From kale to collards, spinach to Swiss chard, dark-green leafy vegetables are a "one stop shop" for many of the nutrients your immune system needs to work well, including fiber, B vitamins, phytochemicals and chlorophyll.


Dry beans and peas contain plenty of folate, a B vitamin that promotes healthy cell division and helps repair damaged cells. “They are a delicious way to eat more plant-based protein and reduce reliance on meat,” said Fogarty.


Lycopene - the phytochemical that gives tomatoes their red color – is a powerful antioxidant. Some studies have shown that lycopene may help prevent the spread of lung and breast cancer, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene can be found in pink grapefruit and watermelon as well.


“A great source of omega-3s and vitamins B12 and D, salmon, like other cold water fish, can provide your body with the nutrients it needs to regulate cell growth and function more efficiently,” said Fogarty. Choose wild-caught pink salmon instead of farmed and you’ll obtain healthy carotenoids as well.


Vegetables in the cruciferous vegetable family are rich in sulforophane and indoles, which regulate cell growth multiple ways potentially influencing a range of cancers (breast, bladder, lymphoma, prostate and lung cancer). Other cruciferous vegetables include bok choy, Brussels sprouts and white turnips. Don’t forget that coleslaw is made with cabbage and is a tasty way to eat cruciferous veggies.


A spice commonly found in curry powder, turmeric offers a healthy dose of the cancer-fighting compound called curcumin. Studies show curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and may inhibit many types of cancer cells, including breast, gastrointestinal, lung and skin cancer. Add some Indian dishes to your menu or add ¼ teaspoon of turmeric to a pot of cooking rice to enjoy the benefits of turmeric.

Foods to Limit

Processed Meats:

Many processed meats – like sausage, bacon, hot dogs, jerky and lunch meats - are made with sodium nitrite, a carcinogen that helps packaged meats stay fresh. “Nitrates in large quantities potentially increase your risk of stomach and other cancers,” said Fogarty. Focus on eating fresh meat and fish and more vegetarian dinners to reduce your nitrite consumption. Choose uncured versions of processed meat and limit your consumption.

Red Meat:

Studies from around the world suggest that a high intake of red meat is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. “Several explanations exist as to why red meat and cancer are linked, including the nitrites used in meat processing and the chemicals released during cooking meat at high temperatures,” said Fogarty. Limit your intake of beef, pork and lamb to no more than a total of 18 ounces (after cooking) a week. The size of your palm is about four ounces of cooked meat.


Heavy drinking of all types of alcohol – beer, wine or liquor – can raise your cancer risk. Most evidence suggests that the ethanol in alcohol is the culprit. The amount of alcohol consumed over time, not the type, seems to be the most important factor in raising the risk of certain cancers, including esophageal, liver and colon cancer. The recommended limit is no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women, if your doctor allows alcohol. One drink equals a 12 ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or a single shot of liquor.