Health & Wellness

Seasonal Spring Produce with Cancer-Fighting Properties

Written By:
Mar 19, 2013
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Written By: Faith Franz,
March 19, 2013

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight saving time is in full swing, and spring is just around the corner. That means longer days, warmer temperatures, and a new crop of seasonal produce.

Unlike winter’s hardy greens and starchy root vegetables, spring’s fruits and vegetables are on the lighter, more delicate side of the spectrum. Asparagus, peas, avocados and guavas are especially abundant at this point of the year. And while all fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that support recovery, certain foods contain substances that inhibit cancer growth or help the body kill off cancerous cells. Below is our list of the top five cancer-fighting foods that are coming into season this spring:

Spring peas — Peas are full of resistant starch. Studies show that this starch helps increase the number of cells with the anti-inflammatory protein IL-40. Resistant starch also decreased tumor size in multiple colorectal cancer studies. Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic and State University believe it might help protect against breast cancer, while other researchers think it may also help protect against other malignancies.

Kitchen tip: Resistant starch begins to break down under heat, so the less you cook the peas, the more benefits you will get. Try lightly steaming the peas, then tossing them with a teaspoon of butter and a handful of torn mint leaves.

Leeks — Leeks contain many of the same cancer-fighting allyl and diallyl sulfides that garlic contains. These substances are powerful agents that can destroy cancer cells (especially in the case of colorectal cancer). Studies also suggest that they help suppress the carcinogenic process, in which healthy cells turn into cancerous cells.

Kitchen tip: Leeks are similar to onions, and you can substitute them in almost any recipe. For a simple way to add them to your diet, sautee the bottoms (the white section) in olive oil, then add to mashed potatoes or cooked brown rice.

Artichokes — One of the most popular spring vegetables, artichokes contain a number of substances that are active against cancer. One of these substances is the polyphenol called ferulic acid, which neutralizes free radicals in the body. Studies suggest that ferulic acid (along with other cancer-fighting agents in artichokes) can help increase cell death in breast cancer. Eating fresh, streamed artichokes provides the highest concentrations of anti-cancer compounds.

Kitchen tip: Marinated artichoke hearts are ready to eat and make a delicious addition to pasta dishes. Try adding ¼ cup artichoke hearts, ¼ cup of sautéed tomatoes and a handful of sautéed spinach to a serving of noodles, then top with olive oil and minced garlic.  

Mangoes — Mangoes are rich in lupeol, a compound that helps prevent the cellular mutations that occur when healthy cells become cancerous. They are also the only fruit to contain mangerifin, a substance with antioxidant activities. When combined with chemotherapy regimens, mangiferin may increase the rate of cell death in certain cancers.

Kitchen tip: Fresh mango is a refreshing add-in for cereal, oatmeal and yogurt. Frozen mango is also ideal for smoothies. Try blending ½ cup of frozen mango chunks with milk, a banana and a handful of kale for a portable vitamin-loaded smoothie.

Rhubarb — Although it’s most commonly coated in sugar and rolled into a pie crust, rhubarb is actually a healthy option for dinner as well. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center notes that rhubarb extract has a toxic impact on cancer cells. It is also able to reduce radiation-induced lung toxicity and improve pulmonary function for lung cancer patients.

Kitchen tip: Skip the rhubarb pie in favor of a main entree. This chicken with baked rhubarb dish requires only four ingredients: chicken, rhubarb, pepper and sugar. Serve it with roasted potatoes and steamed greens and you have a complete supper!

Let us know if you try any of our kitchen tips, or if you have another spring favorite, in the comments below or on Facebook.

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