Amazing Power of Plant-Based Foods That Fight Cancer

fruits and vegetables

Reports of exotic sounding herbs and curious looking fruits from far off lands always make headlines for their cancer-fighting properties.

We’ve seen the pictures of bright yellow fruits from Indonesia dotted with spikes or white fleshy fruits from Thailand covered with long hairy tendrils.

But did you know you already may have some cancer prevention foods and supplements as close as your refrigerator or pantry?

Researchers at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) suggest that diets containing plenty of plant-based foods such as apples, cherries, squash and whole grains contribute to lowering cancer risks and fighting cancer.

These types of foods are lauded for their health benefits because of the chemical compounds and vitamins, also known as antioxidants and phytochemicals, which protect the human body.

Many patients diagnosed with mesothelioma often search for ways to improve their diets, especially when the side effects of chemotherapy alter their regular eating habits. If you are looking to incorporate these foods into your diet, be sure to check with your doctor first.

What Are Plant-Based Foods?

The role of plant-based foods is becoming more crucial in cancer prevention as researchers continue to study their benefits.

So what’s considered a plant-based food? Any food source that comes directly from the ground is considered a plant-based food.

Plant-based foods include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains (wheat, barley, rye, quinoa)
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts)

The plant-based foods that generate the most interest are apples, cherries, walnuts, lentils, berries, green tea, tomatoes, soy and grapefruit.

The list continues to grow as researchers, nutritionists and dietitians discover more plant-based foods with cancer-fighting properties.

What Makes Plant-Based Foods Special?

The unique anti-inflammatory and protective mechanisms of these fruits stem from their phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Phytochemicals help protect our body from damage triggered by cancer-causing agents, also known as carcinogens. They also protect against heart disease, aging, inflammation, arthritis and macular degeneration, a loss of vision in the center of the visual field.

In short, they fight disease from the inside out.

There are more than 10,000 known phytochemicals, and this number continues to increase.

Some well-known phytochemicals include:

  • Lycopene in tomatoes
  • Isoflavones in soy
  • Beta-carotene in carrots
  • Polyphenols in tea and grapes

Antioxidants are a type of phytochemical, but they also include vitamins and other nutrients that help protect the body from the damaging effects molecules that can damage healthy cells, also known as free radicals.

Herbs with the highest antioxidant levels include:

  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Clove
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon

Lutein, found in red peppers and corn, and vitamins A (beta carotene), C and E are also well-known antioxidants.

Phytochemicals and antioxidants also give most plant foods their unique colors. For example, lycopene is responsible for the red hue in tomatoes and red carrots. In addition to antioxidants and phytochemicals, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are high in fiber — another cancer-fighting compound that many of us are lacking in our diets.

How Can You Add Plant-Based Foods to Your Diet?

AICR recommends filling at least two-thirds of your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

Although there are individual foods, herbs and supplements with anti-cancer effects, experts agree it’s the overall diet and combination of plant-based foods that offers the strongest protection against cancer.

Another recommendation is to aim for 5-12 daily servings of fruit and vegetables. A serving includes half a cup of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, half a cup of cooked vegetables, a medium-sized piece of fruit and a quarter cup of dried fruit or half a cup of cooked beans.

10 Easy Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Diet:

  • Include at least 2 servings of fruits, vegetables or both with each meal and one with each snack. If you eat at least three meals and two snacks daily, you will have reached your goal.
  • Juicing or buying 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices is a great way to boost your phytochemical levels. Just be careful to limit your intake to no more than 2 servings daily. Too much can provide excess sugar, and juices often lack the all-important fiber.
  • Drink fresh brewed tea instead of iced or bottled tea. Allow your tea bag or loose tea to steep in boiling water for at 3-5 minutes to maximize its antioxidant potential.
  • Buy or borrow vegetarian cookbooks. This will give you so many ideas on how to incorporate plant foods into your diet in fun and different ways. After a while, salads and steamed veggies can get boring.
  • Limit your serving size of meat, poultry or seafood to 3 ounces with each meal. By reducing your portion of animal-based foods, you will inevitably increase your serving with the essential plant foods.
  • Experiment with a variety of spices and herbs for a true boost in phytochemicals. Add a pinch of cinnamon to your morning oats or ½ teaspoon of turmeric to your chili. Use cilantro in your Mexican dishes or shred some fresh basil into your pasta.
  • Go with convenience. Buy cherry tomatoes, chopped baby carrots or pre-cut celery sticks to encourage you to snack healthily and easily during the day.
  • Substitute ranch dressing for hummus for a more nutritious dip, or make your own dips using yogurt, garlic and herbs and spices for a low-fat, less processed version.
  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach and romaine lettuce have much more vitamins and antioxidants than iceberg lettuce. Make an easy switch for a big boost.
  • Swear to eat fruit — the whole fruit. Don’t waste any part of a fruit or vegetable. For example, many of us discard the white part of citrus fruits, known as the albedo. It’s an extremely nutrient-rich and should not be missed. We also throw away broccoli stalks and leaves, eating only the florets or heads. These parts of the vegetable contain fiber and phytochemicals. Save your money and your nutrients by eating every piece nature gave us.
  1. AICR.org. (2015, March 25). AICR'S foods that fight cancer. Retrieved from http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/

Tejal Parekh is a registered and licensed dietitian in Florida with a master’s in nutrition and dietetics from Georgia State University. She realized her passion more than 10 years ago when she started working with cancer patients. Tejal also is one of the first dietitians in Florida to be board-certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition.

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