- Some cancers are determined by genetics and can’t be avoided. But nearly half of all cancer diagnoses are linked to preventable lifestyle factors.
- Scientists are still figuring out how cancer works, but compelling evidence suggests that eating certain foods can reduce your risk of getting cancer.
- From carotenoid-rich greens like spinach and kale to fibrous foods like lentils, here’s a list of items to incorporate into your diet.
Scientists haven’t yet found a cure for cancer. But what they have discovered after decades of research is that there are certain behaviours, foods, and lifestyle choices we can make that either increase or decrease our odds of developing cancer.
Nearly half of all cancer diagnoses are preventable, and can be avoided if we make sure not to smoke, get enough exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and eat right.
Here are 39 of the top foods that science suggests can help you boost your chances of staying cancer-free.
Fibre is a miracle worker in the body, but not for the reason you might think.
People often joke about fibre’s magical ability to keep things (ahem) moving, but ingestable roughage does much more than relieve constipation.
A February 2019 study of more than 125,000 Americans reinforced what health experts have been saying for years: Fibre helps the body stay cancer-free. After more than 24 years of study, these researchers found that people who consistently ate a fibre-rich diet were less likely to develop liver cancer.
Fibre eaters are also less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and obesity, most likely because fibre keeps our gut microbiome healthy.
Some overlooked fibre-rich foods include raspberries, peas, barley, lentils, and chia seeds.
In general, whole grains, nuts, and beans all have a decent dose of fibre.
If you want to get dietary fibre from bread or pasta, make sure to choose whole grains, not the refined or processed stuff.
Look for breads and pastas that are labelled “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” Remember, wheat flour is only about 25% whole wheat. You can also try incorporating more barley, quinoa,Ethiopian teff, or wild rice into your meals.
Overall, plants are the best diet staple because they’re high in fibre and contain disease-fighting phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are what give fruits and vegetables bright colours, odours, and flavours.
Once inside our bodies, phytochemicals help defend us against disease. They reduce inflammation, which has the potential to make cancer more likely. Plus, they act like ingestible body guards, keeping the things we eat, drink, and breathe from becoming cancer-causers in the first place, while also preventing and repairing DNA damage.
The plant chemical beta carotene, which pops up in orange and yellow produce items, is especially good for you.
Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas are a great way to give your immune system a shot of zinc.
Greens like spinach and kale are a great way to take in the vitamins that keep our immune systems healthy.
People who eat carotenoid-rich foods like dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes can convert the chemicals in those plants into nutrients like vitamin A.
Broccoli and celery aren’t just crunchy — they’re kind of like anti-cancer defence systems for the body.
When we chop, chew, and digest cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy, they break down into biologically active compounds that both protect our cells from DNA damage and kill cancer cells, at least in animal tests. Scientists are still determining if these processes work the same way in humans that they do in animals, though.
Other promising research already suggests celery can kill cancer cells in the body.
Red’s a great colour for fruits and vegetables, too. Tomatoes, grapefruits, and papaya in a diet can help reduce a person’s risk of developing lung, stomach, prostate, and breast cancers.
Studies suggest that eating lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables, which are generally reddish or pinkish, reduces a person’s risk of developing several kinds of cancer.
Iodine-rich foods like cheese help regulate our hormones, which is bad news for tumours.
Iodine is an essential mineral: The body uses it to make thyroid hormones, which help control our metabolism.Studies suggest that having too much or too little iodine in your system can play a role in tumour growth.
Good dietary sources of iodine include: cheese, yogurt, milk, certain fish like cod, tuna, and shrimp, as well as seaweed.
Nibbling just a few nuts a day can also help reduce your risk of cancer, especially if they’re the right kind.
A study of more than 75,000 women in the US found that those who said they consumed more than two ounces of nuts per week had a lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer than women who rarely (if ever) opted for nutty snacks.
Some nuts appear to be more potent than others. Brazil nuts contain a hefty dose of selenium, an essential element for human health. The fatty South American tree seeds aren’t technically nuts at all (like almonds, they’re really seeds), but they still show promise in reducing people’s risk of cervical and prostate cancers. Eating just two Brazil “nuts” per day may be enough.
Like Brazil nuts, mushrooms are a good source of selenium.
The fungi have been safely and effectively used alongside radiation and chemotherapy for three decades in Japan and China.
Scientists still want to know more about how mushrooms work in the body, but the evidence so far is compelling. Observational studies of Chinese people suggest that eating just one mushroom a day can help reduce a person’s breast cancer risk.
Turmeric is an essential curry ingredient used around the globe. Doctors think the savoury spice is one of the most excellent anti-cancer tools we can eat.
“It’s probably, to the best of my knowledge, the most potent naturally occurring anti-inflammatory,” Ajay Goel, a biophysicist who researches cancer, recently told Business Insider.
Where Goel is from in India, turmeric is an essential part of almost everyone’s daily diet.
“They don’t even recognise,” he said, “but it’s protecting them from a lot of disease.”
Allium vegetables like onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic do more than give us bad breath: People who eat lots of them may reduce their risk of contracting cancers of the gut and breast.
It’s tough to know exactly how much garlic and onions is optimal, because much of the research on their anti-cancer properties has been observational. Still, in studies conducted around the world, scientists consistently find a link between eating more garlic and onions and developing fewer gut cancers, like colon cancer.
Some of the most recent research on this effect came in a 2019study of over 1,600 Chinese men and women. The results showed that those who ate the most allium blooms had 79% lower odds of developing colon cancer than people who rarely ate these foods.
Part of the reason garlic and onions are thought to potentially be good cancer-fighters is because they both contain smelly organosulfur compounds that may help keep our hearts, heads, and guts running smoothly.
There’s also burgeoning evidence that garlic and onions might be good for breast health.
Research conducted in Puerto Rico in 2019 found that women there who eat more onions and garlic tend to contract fewer cases of breast cancer than others. (A popular sauce often used as a base in Puerto Rican cooking, called sofrito, is commonly made with both vegetables.) The finding confirms what other research has turned up before in France, Mexico, Taiwan, and China, but other studies have been less convincing about a strong connection between garlic, onions, and healthy breasts.
A daily dose of coffee keeps your heart healthy and is also associated with a lower risk of certain cancers.
If you’re looking for a different type of brew, green tea also seems to provide an anti-cancer boost, thanks to the plant chemicals it contains.
Scientists aren’t sure about the connection between tea and lower cancer risk yet, but some good evidence suggests that green tea, which is rich in polyphenols, might disturb the way cancer cells divide and multiply and slow down blood-vessel formation around tumours.
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