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Foods that fight cancer

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Combat cancer with your diet

Are you modifying your diet to reduce your risk of cancer? Are you confused by the contradictory information in the media? Wouldn't it be nice to simply have a handy list of foods to eat to prevent cancer? Reducing your risk of cancer is as easy as changing your diet, but don't think you can just pop a multi-vitamin. Despite the correlation of key nutrients, such as antioxidants, and a lower incidence of cancer, your best defense is actually consuming nutrients through food. Here is a list of cancer-fighting foods.

Antioxidants

Antioxidant-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, have been shown to protect the body from tissue damage that occurs as a result of metabolism, also called oxidation, which has been linked with increased cancer risk. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E as well as carotenoids and other phytochemicals, may protect cells from the damage caused by oxidation's unstable molecules, also known as free radicals, by interacting with and stabilizing them.

Keep in mind, however, that research has not proven that vitamin and mineral supplements are effective in combating cancer, so researchers suggest that you get antioxidants through food, rather than pills. Fruits and vegetables are primary sources, but antioxidants are also abundant in herbs and spices as well as coffee and tea. In addition, nutrient-rich foods deemed superfoods are also good choices.

Vitamin C

Studies have shown that diets high in vitamin C can reduce the risk of cancer. Vitamin C is abundant in many fruits and vegetables, particularly papaya, strawberries, citrus, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale.

Vitamin E

The most active form of vitamin E is called alpha-tocopherol, a powerful antioxidant. Research is divided on whether or not vitamin E can significantly reduce the risk of cancer. However, it has been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds and almonds, olives, papaya, blueberries and dark leafy greens.

Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is a carotenoid related to vitamin A. Because it is abundant in fruits and vegetables, it is believed to help combat cancer. However, studies on beta-carotene supplements have shown no benefit, with one study even reporting that high doses of beta-carotene may actually increase cancer risk. Researchers suggest eating foods rich in beta-carotene, primarily fruits and vegetables, and avoiding mega-doses of supplements. Sources of beta-carotene include bright colored fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squash, cilantro, fresh thyme, cantaloupe and broccoli.

Lycopene

That red-orange carotenoid found primarily in tomatoes called lycopene has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, but researchers cannot positively conclude that it is the lycopene, or the other phytonutrients that are responsible. They suggest getting lycopene from whole food sources. In addition to tomatoes, other foods that contain lycopene include pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava, apricot and papaya.

Folate

Not only is folate, a B vitamin, essential in preventing birth defects, such as spina bifida, research suggests that a folate deficiency may also increase the risk of colon, rectum, and breast cancers. Folate is found in many vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. Leafy greens, lentils and beans are especially high in folate.

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that contributes to the body's antioxidant defense mechanisms. Research indicates that selenium may reduce the risk of lung, colon and prostate cancers. However, researchers caution against high-dose supplements of selenium due to the potential for toxicity. Food sources of selenium include lamb and fish, such as halibut, salmon, tuna, snapper and cod, as well as barley and mushrooms.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may be effective in reducing colon, prostate and breast cancers. Vitamin D is manufactured in the body through skin exposure to sunlight, or ultraviolet radiation (UV), and through fortified food products like milk and cereals. Researchers suggest getting limited exposure to sun (to prevent skin cancer), taking vitamin D supplements, and consuming foods rich in vitamin D, such as salmon, shrimp, eggs, milk and fortified breads and cereals. Note that due to potentially high levels of mercury in seafood, you should limit your intake of fish to two times per week.

Fruits and Vegetables

In general, you can reduce your risk of cancer by chocking your diet full of fruits and vegetables. People with higher consumption of produce tend to have lower rates of cancer. Because researchers don't know the specific compounds responsible for reducing cancer, they suggest getting at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In addition to increasing your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients, eating more fruits and vegetables can also help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of other diseases.

Water and Other Fluids

Drinking water and other liquids may reduce your risk of bladder cancer. A higher volume of liquid in the bladder dilutes the concentration of cancer-causing agents in the urine and shortens the time the lining of the bladder is exposed to them. Researchers recommend at least eight cups of water or other liquid a day. You may need even more if you exercise (exercise combats cancer, too) or are taking medications that can cause dehydration.

By changing your diet to include more wholesome foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, you will not only reduce your risk of cancer, you will be reducing your risk of becoming overweight and getting weight-related diseases.

For a delicious array of healthy recipes featuring cancer-fighting foods, visit the healthy cooking section of the SheKnows.com Food and Recipes Channel.

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