You are what you eat! These days, there are more and more everyday food and drinks that are labeled as carcinogenic. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), at least one-third of the cancer deaths in 2018 are due to the five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index (BMI), low fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and alcohol use.
For example, the consumption of carcinogens as found in potato fries, margarine and baked goods are indeed correlated with higher risks of cancer. It is clear that a healthy diet and lifestyle hold key to beating cancer. In this article, we review the health benefits of 10 cancer fighting foods, as well as the best ways to include these in your daily diet to get the appropriate cancer protection that we all need.
Disclaimer: There is no single food or compound that can fully protect us from cancer. Nonetheless, consuming a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grain food, soy food and other plant-based foods can greatly reduce the risk of cancer. These foods may lower the risk of developing cancer if they are included in our daily diets.
Garlic is the star among all its cancer-preventing peers. Garlic contains allicin, a phytochemical that inhibits the formation of nitrosamine, a potent carcinogen, in our bodies. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) reported that a diet high in allicin is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. Specifically, garlic has also been proven effective in preventing cancers of the stomach, rectum, esophagus, pancreas and breast. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating about a garlic clove (2-5g) per day. If you do find the flavor of garlic too strong, you may consider alternatives, such as vegetables like onions, chives and green shallots that are filled with allium.
#2: The Brassicaceae Family – Broccoli, Cauliflower and Kale
The Brassicaceae family is thought to prevent cancers of the lung, breast, colon and prostate. There have been studies to show that vegetables from the Brassicaceae family contain antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, proanthocyanidins and glucosinolates, all of which have anti-cancer properties. These vegetables are also rich in folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber, which are essential in growth, wound healing, and act as antioxidants by reacting with free radicals.
Beetroots have a low calorie content despite their natural sweetness. Beets are an excellent source of manganese, folate, fiber and vitamin B. Some would even classify beetroot as a “superfood.” Beets can be eaten raw or consumed as a refreshing juice beverage. To maintain food safety, it’s best to thoroughly remove all traces of dirt and debris from the beetroot before consumption.
The rich red color of beets come from betalain, a phytochemical substance. Betalain has been shown to boost immunoglobulin activity as well as the proliferation of anti-tumour cells, all of which help hinder cancer progression. What’s more, beets can help our body reduce the risk of complications from cancer and treatment by decreasing cardiovascular risk factors. Having said that, cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy might want to cook their beetroot thoroughly. This is because chemotherapy treatment can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to protect itself from foodborne illnesses. You are more prone to food poisoning as well as other viral and bacterial infections by eating raw or undercooked foods.
Humans began including carrots as part of their diets 5,000 years ago. The antioxidant carotene, found in carrots and many other yellow and orange produces, is responsible for strengthening our immune system. Carrots are also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin K. A half-cup serving of carrots will provide you with as much vitamin A as you need for the day. The nutrients from carrots are absorbed best when they are eaten or prepared with a drizzle of oil, since vitamin A and K are fat soluble vitamins, along with Vitamin D and E .
A study led by the University of Arkansas in the United States discovered that well-cooked carrots contain more carotene and vitamin K than raw carrots. Specifically, it was found that cooked carrots contain 30% more antioxidants than raw carrots.
Another study with 1,200 elderly residents in Massachusetts observed a weak correlation between cancer mortality rate and a diet consumption that is high in carotene. Even though the results have certain limitations, it is recommended to include foods that are high in carotene, such as yellow and green leafy produces, including spinach, lettuce, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes in your daily diet..
Berries come in different colours and with many phytochemicals. Blueberries, for example, are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and manganese. They are also one of the most antioxidant-rich fruits, mainly because of their high concentrations of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals, such as proanthocyanidins and flavonoids, have been shown to reduce cancer risks. Other berries, such as blackberries and strawberries, have also been shown to effectively prevent gastrointestinal and breast cancer.
Tofu, edamame, soy milk and miso are some common examples of soy-based foods. Soy is also one of the few plant-based foods that provide excellent sources of protein, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese – all of which are essential for a healthy diet – along with dietary fiber, which can protect us against colon cancer. What’s more, some studies have shown that soy consumption can lower the level of prostate-specific antigens (PSA) in our bodies, which lowers the risk of prostate cancer.
Soy also contains various types of phytochemicals and active compounds, such as saponin. Studies have indicated that these compounds can lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as reducing the risk of cancer overall.
#7: Green Tea
Green tea is made from the young leaves and buds of Camellia Sinensis. Green tea is different from black tea in that the former is not fermented. Green tea contains various types of polyphenols, such as catechins. Catechins are antioxidants which have been proven to prevent cancer.
What’s more, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a chemopreventive polyphenol found in green tea, has been reported to have tumour shrinking and anti-angiogenic effects. For reference, a cup of green tea contains roughly 30mg of caffeine. Health Canada recommends adults should not exceed more than 400mg of caffeine per day to prevent a number of biological effects like its diuretic and stimulant properties. Some sensitive individuals may experience side effects such as insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness.
Turmeric is one of the key spices used in Indian cuisine. Lower cancer incidence rates have been observed amongst countries and communities with high turmeric intake (defined as 100-200mg of daily turmeric consumption per person). These patterns have been observed in incidence rates of breast, colon, stomach as well as skin cancer.
Although there has been a growing research interest in the properties of turmeric, the current existing evidence is not adequate enough to prove its anti-cancer properties outright. Also, turmeric is usually poorly absorbed by our bodies, where overconsumption can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.
#9: Omega-3 fatty acids – yellow croaker and chia seeds
Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid present in a variety of foods. The three main types of this fatty acid are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 can be found in fruits, vegetables and seafood, such as cold-water fish, nuts and plant oil. A study conducted by the University of Guelph in Canada has discovered that omega-3s obtained from oceanic sources and plants are effective in preventing breast tumours from progressing. In particular, such effects brought about by omega-3s obtained from oceanic sources were reported to be eight times more effective than those from plant sources.
At present, there remains no consensus on the amount of omega-3s one should take in on a daily basis. With that said, we can easily obtain sufficient omega-3 intake from seafood sources like yellow croaker, salmon, mackerel, barramundi, sablefish, pomfret and golden threadfin bream. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain their omega-3s from nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Tomatoes have consistently been the most popular vegetable choice amongst many due to their natural sweetness. One study revealed that the consumption of non-starchy vegetables. such as tomatoes, can reduce the risk of cancers of the upper respiratory tract, including the mouth, lip and tongue.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene. The current evidence behind whether lycopene can reduce the risk of cancer in humans is still controversial. Having said that, there has been one single animal trial that showed that a diet containing lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and even slow down the growth of prostate cancer cells. Of course, more research is required to determine whether the same findings can be translated to human trials.
Lycopene found in tomatoes is fat-soluble, which means that this compound is not easily lost during the process of cooking. In fact, the process of cooking as well as eating lycopene alongside foods rich in healthy fats often makes lycopene more concentrated and more readily bioavailable to be absorbed by our bodies.
This recipe shows you how to make tomato soup at home:
Creamy Pumpkin Tomato Soup
Ingredients (4 servings):
- Pumpkin 1
- Tomato 2
- Onion 1
- Garlic 1 clove
- Tomato paste to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste
- Yoghurt (optional)
- Peel the pumpkin skin and remove its seeds. Finely chop the pumpkin, garlic and onion.
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add onions in and stir-fry until they become translucent. Add pumpkin and stir-fry for 1 minute.
- Add fried onions, pumpkin and tomato paste into one pot. Add just about enough water to cover all ingredients.
- Bring mixture to a boil over over medium heat for 8 minutes, or until the pumpkin becomes tender.
- Season with salt and black pepper. Add yogurt to serve.
Tomato Seaweed Fish Soup
Ingredients (4 servings):
- Tomato 3
- Seaweed to taste
- Ginger 2 pieces
- Fresh fish 1 pound
- Wash tomatoes and dice them. Rinse seaweed.
- Clean fish and pan-fry it with oil over a saucepan.
- Add fish, tomato, ginger and 6 cups of boiling water to boil for 20 minutes.
- Add seaweed and boil for another 10 minutes
A healthy and balanced diet is the foremost step in cancer prevention. In general, it is recommended that we consume at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables a day; as well as to avoid eating processed meats. Having said that, individual differences in our body and health mean that such ‘top 10 anti-cancer’ food list should be modified to suit each person differently.
In particular, cancer patients should never proceed with diets solely based on ‘anti-cancer’ or ‘cancer-fighting’ foods. Those who are undergoing cancer treatment should always first consult their physicians and dietitians for queries regarding their diets.
Please note that certain cooking methods can actually create carcinogenic compounds in otherwise ‘anti-cancer’ foods. For example, garlic can release carcinogens like acrylamide under high cooking temperatures. In fact, acrylamide can be found in many deep-fried carbohydrate foods, including french fries. In general, deep-frying, grilling or baking under high temperatures should be avoided.
Once carcinogens enter our bodies, they may cause uncontrolled growth and division of cells, which could increase the chances of gene mutations and tumor growth.
What’s more, in the case of nasopharyngeal cancer, the nitroso compounds released during the pickle curing and drying processes of salted fish as well as other salted and preserved foods are believed to be the causative agent in nasopharyngeal cancer gene mutation. The southern Chinese diet contains a variety of salt-preserved foods. Such dietary habit is thought to explain the unusually high incidence of nasopharyngeal cancer in the South China and Southeast Asia regions.