Cancer rates are higher now than at any other time in human history, and it’s not just because we’re living longer; we are constantly exposed to harmful chemicals in food, cosmetics, and in drugs designed to help us (supposedly). Buy organic fruits and vegetables; these are not produced with toxic pesticides, and do not contain modified genetics. Only use lead-free cosmetics, and check canned food labels carefully—eating out of anything stored in a plastic coated BPA container is not a good idea (BPA leeching into food has been tied to breast cancer). Read on for ten foods that will help protect against cancer.
Most of the foods on this list are fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants and other helpful compounds that neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules than can cause harm) in the body, among other functions. Broccoli and its sister cruciferous vegetables (kale, cauliflower, cabbage) house the phytochemicals called glucosinolates; these chemicals make protective enzymes that get released when you break the veggies’ cell walls (with your teeth, as you eat them). Broccoli also has sulforaphane, a phytochemical that detoxifies harmful substances (like smoke) in the body, and attacks the harmful bacteria H. pylori. Broccoli has been found to be especially effective against cancers of the mouth and stomach. Eat broccoli raw or gently steamed to keep all its goodness inside and protect against cancer.
Garlic is a powerful little vegetable; its fragrant sulfur compounds help repair DNA, destroy cancer cells, and prevent cancer-causing agents from forming in the body. Garlic also neutralizes harmful bacteria, like H. pylori; this bacteria is linked to stomach cancer. To get the full benefit of garlic’s allicin (one of the sulfuric compounds), wait fifteen to twenty minutes between peeling/chopping the cloves and cooking them. This time activates enzymes and releases the allicin. Other members of the allium family, which have some of the same properties, include chives, scallions, leeks, and chives.
The bright red coloring of tomatoes comes from lycopene, a phytochemical that’s also a strong antioxidant. Multiple studies have found that a diet rich in lycopene reduces the risk of prostate, breast, stomach, and lung cancers. Besides tomatoes, watermelons, pink grapefruits, guava, apricots, and red bell peppers are good sources of lycopene. As a rough guide, a tablespoon of ketchup contains 2.5 milligrams of lycopene. Another great food that protects against cancer.
Carrots contain a host of vitamins and phytochemicals that may protect the body from cancers of the esophagus, stomach, and mouth. Beta-carotene, a helpful antioxidant, is also part of the carrot’s profile; this polyphenol (the technical term for antioxidants) guards cell membranes against toxin damage, and slows the growth of cancer cells. Other studies suggest carrots offer protection from cervical cancer, as their antioxidants fight HPV, the main cause of this cancer. Cooked carrots supply more antioxidants than raw, unless you chew the raw carrots fifty times each or so—the cell walls of this vegetable are very thick. Steam, don’t boil carrots—when you boil vegetables, you lose most of their benefits in the cooking water.
Berries are a very healthy food source, and grow abundantly in many wild areas and woodlands. One recent study found that strawberry and black raspberry extracts slowed the growth of colon cancer cells. Strawberries contain the antioxidants vitamin C and ellagic acid; the first calms the nervous system and the second activates enzymes that destroy free radicals and slow tumor growth. Strawberries also have flavanoids; these compounds suppress an enzyme that damages DNA and has been connected to lung cancer. Beyond all this, eating fresh berries improves short-term memory retention.
Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids that destroy harmful molecules called free radicals), spinach is an excellent vegetable for fending off cancer. A study performed by the National Institute of Health (of more than 490,000 people), found that folks who ate more spinach who were less likely to get esophageal cancer. Besides its helpful carotenoids, spinach also has folic acid and fiber, both of which fight the risk of others cancers. Folate helps the body repair DNA and make new cells, and fiber repairs damage to cell walls. Kale, swiss chard, and collard greens are in the same happy family as spinach.
7. Whole Grains
Whole grain foods are far better for the body than processed white flour foods; whole grains have fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, lignans (another wonderful antioxidant), and saponins—these last compounds may stop cancer cells from reproducing. Whole wheat bread rolled in flax or sesame seeds offers even more lignans. A diet high in fiber is tied to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer.
8. Green tea
Green tea has a delicate taste; its leaves are dried and treated with heat before they’re picked, to stop the fermentation process. Green tea has 25 milligrams of caffeine per cup, improving mental clarity. Green tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins, which can fight off cancer and heart disease; these phytochemicals detoxify the body, preventing mutated cells from turning into cancer. One study found a cup of green tea a day might lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature, which means they quell inflammation in the body, including the irregular cell growth that causes tumors. Besides anchovies, omega-3s are present in tuna, wild salmon, mackerel herring, and lake trout—the fish that like cold water. Beyond suppressing tumor growth, omega-3s also lower cholesterol levels and elevate moods. Keep aware of the mercury levels in the fish you eat—they should be labeled to tell you their mercury risks. You can also ingest omega-3 fatty acids from plants, like flax seeds and chia seeds.
Soybeans are rich in isoflavones, which both block cancer growth and boost energy levels—tofu, edamame, and tempeh are three fine sources of soy. Japanese men have very low rates of prostate cancer, and it’s believed their high soy diet is the reason. An easy way to bring soy into your diet is by switching from cow milk to soymilk. Edamame makes a great snack in the afternoon (it’s a bit of an acquired taste), or sauté tofu with broccoli and green onions for a well-rounded anti-cancer dinner.
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