The Anti-Cancer Diet

Follow an anti-cancer diet to reduce your risk of disease with these 14 antioxidant-packed, anti-cancer foods and herbs.

| November/December 2012

  • Walnuts contain healthy fats and may help inhibit some cancers.
    Photo Courtesy iStockPhoto
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale contain minerals such as calcium and magnesium that can protect against cancer.
    Photo Courtesy Fotolia
  • Orange vegetables are a good source of carotenoids, which can help protect against DNA damage.
    Photo Courtesy iStock

Cancer is the second leading cause of death and accounts for one in four deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, more than 1.6 million people will receive a cancer diagnosis—a number that excludes skin cancers, which are so common they’re not reported to cancer registries. The group also reports that more than 577,000 Americans will die from cancer this year, a rate of more than 1,500 people a day.

Despite these disheartening statistics, cancer is a largely preventable disease. Genetics play a significant role in only a few cancers. Scientists attribute one-third of cancers to tobacco use, one-third to diet and one-third to environmental exposures (infectious microorganisms, ultraviolet light, radiation, pollutants and other toxins). Physical inactivity, obesity, insufficient sleep and alcohol are also linked to some cancers.

Prevention of many cancer risk factors is pretty straightforward: Stay away from tobacco, restrict alcohol intake, manage your weight, move your body and get enough sleep. Those changes prevent a host of illnesses and promote healthy longevity. Although it takes patience and perseverance, changing our habits is well worth it in terms of cancer prevention.

The Anti-Cancer Diet

Science is fairly certain that our diets play an important role in cancer prevention, but exactly how the two are linked is far from clear-cut. Most human cancer studies are observational, meaning they provide evidence for associations between various diets and cancer but don’t establish cause. In general, however, plant-based diets seem to help prevent cancer. Edible plants contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Some plant chemicals fight cancer cells directly, while others promote a healthy immune system, which helps reduce cancer risk.

A number of anti-cancer foods, spices and herbs stand out for their ability to fight this disease. Most are rich sources of flavonoids and carotenoids, which, among other functions, reduce oxidation (free radical damage) and inflammation—twin processes that promote chronic diseases, including cancer. Flavonoids belong to a broader chemical group called polyphenols, which provide multiple benefits for plants and those of us who eat them. Most foods and supplements that make health headlines—including fruits, vegetables, chocolate, tea and wine—are brimming with polyphenols.

Berries, cherries and grapes: These tasty, nutrient-dense fruits owe their deep, vibrant colors to flavonoids such as anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, which pack potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Red grapes also contain resveratrol, the same antioxidant found in red wine.

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