The following anti-cancer foods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other macro- and micronutrients all of which boost the immune, cardiovascular, and other systems of the body. Although I am only discussing the cancer prevention properties of these foods, I should point out that they also reduce the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases. There are many foods listed here and eating various combinations of them should go a long way towards boosting the body’s natural defence systems. The phytonutrients providing cancer protection are also listed.
Don’t be tempted to take the phytonutrients (such as isoflavones) as dietary supplements. In any whole food, the range of phytonutrients available is wide and all of them are in the correct proportions for absorption and maximum use by the body. The phytonutrients complement each other and work together (in synergy) to provide the desired health benefit. Dietary supplements are often in concentrations that are too high and may even have effects that are the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.
Make sure you eat only those plant-based foods that are organic.
Apples and Pears – are loaded with soluble fibre which has a gentle laxative effect and is excellent for colon health. These fruit contain quercetin which has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, especially lung cancer (2, 3).
Beans/Legumes – contain low-fat protein as well as a whole range of phytonutrients and antioxidants with potent cancer fighting properties (1, 6). They also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the Macrobiotic Cancer Prevention Diet, Michio Kushi recommends that 5-10% of daily food intake be in the form of cooked beans (aduki, chickpeas, lentils and black soybeans) (20). Beans are not easily digested so it is best to soak or sprout them before cooking. Raw sprouts can be added to salads or stir-fries. Also see soya beans later.
Bee Pollen and Royal Jelly – Bee pollen is considered one of nature’s most completely nourishing foods (16, 25) and an excellent anti-cancer food, containing nearly all the nutrients required by humans. Royal jelly has been used effectively in the treatment of leukaemia (25)
Berries – include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, cranberries, purple grapes and blackcurrants. They contain ellagic acid, anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins which are known to inhibit cancer growth by depriving cancerous tumours of their blood supplies (2, 4, 6). Açai Berries – are very rich in antioxidants including anthocyanidins which, as with other berries, have anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown that extracts of this berry kill 86% of leukemic cells (16). Goji Berries –contain germanium which reduces the risk of hormone-related cancers such as prostate and cervical cancer. Goji and açai berries are superfoods with nutrient contents that far exceed those of all other berries (16).
Broccoli and other Cruciferous Vegetables - include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, turnip, swede, kale and rape. These anti-cancer foods contain substances known as glucosinolates which are converted, in the body, into phytochemicals called isothiocyanates and indoles. Both these phytochemicals have been shown to block or inhibit tumour growth. Cruciferous vegetables reduce the incidence of bladder and colorectal cancers and of hormone-related cancers such as breast or prostate (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8).
Carrots – are known to offer protection against many types of cancer (3) and they are the vegetable most often used in holistic cancer treatment (25). They are used extensively (especially in juice form and together with other vegetables) in the Gerson Cancer Therapy which has been used to successfully treat many types of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases (9).
Chocolate (Dark/Raw) – contains substances which reduce cholesterol levels and support heart health. It has a high fat content of which 35% (in raw cacao beans) is monounsaturated. So it reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. It contains proanthocyanidins which have anti-cancer properties (1, 2, 4, 6, 16). The anti-cancer effect is markedly reduced in milk chocolate. Many of the special properties of chocolate are destroyed by cooking, refining and processing (16). Because of the high fat content, chocolate should be eaten in moderation.
Fish (oily) – include mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon and trout. Oily fish have a high content of omega-3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease, strokes and arthritis. Consumption of oily fish reduces the incidence of colorectal, prostate and breast cancers. It also reduces the risk of leukaemia (1). Oily fish is a good source of selenium, a known anti-cancer mineral.
Flaxseed – rich in omega-3 fatty acids (best plant source) with the benefits described for oily fish. It is also rich in fibre, which is necessary for bowel health. It contains phytoestrogens called lignins which protect against breast, prostate and other hormone-related cancers (2, 6, 25). As a source of omega-3 fatty acids it is ideal for pure vegetarians.
Garlic and Onions – belong to the Allium family which includes leeks, shallots, spring onions and chives. These vegetables, especially garlic, contain potent sulphur compounds that play a major role in preventing or slowing down the development of oesophageal, stomach, colon, prostate and breast cancers (1, 2, 3, 4, 8). Garlic also has blood-thinning properties and it reduces blood levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol). This means that it reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Grapes – contain a polyphenol called resveratrol which slows the development of cancer. Resveratrol is also found in red wine (drink in moderation) (4, 6, 8).
Green Leafy Vegetables – are rich in chlorophyll, and other phytochemicals which are known anti-cancer chemicals (2). They reduce the risk of prostate, breast, colon, lung, skin, oral, stomach and ovarian cancers (8). They are also known for promoting eye health, reducing the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Green Tea – is rich in the polyphenols known as flavanols or catechins which not only cause cell death but inhibit the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumours. They are effective in arresting the development of bladder, prostate, breast, stomach, skin, mouth, lung, oesophageal and colorectal cancers (1, 4, 6). Drink freshly brewed green tea 3 – 4 times a day. Infuse the tea for 8 – 10 minutes.
Mushrooms – including the Japanese mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, kawaratake) have anti-cancer properties. Even oyster, Portobello and button mushrooms have some anti-cancer effects. They contain a polysaccharide called lentinan which stimulates the immune system and slows down tumour growth (6). They are used in the treatment of cancer especially stomach and cervical cancer.
Nuts and Seeds – include walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and cashews. Only almonds and Brazil nuts are alkalising. Nuts and seeds are a source of omega-3 fatty acids which promote heart health. They protect against some cancers and improve prostate health (2, 8, 14). As with other fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds contain zinc which is necessary for the production of male sex hormones. An enlarged prostate is usually a sign zinc deficiency (1). It is best to soak the nuts or seeds to activate their enzymes and improve their digestion.
Olive Oil – is a source of monounsaturated fatty acids which do not cause cholesterol to accumulate and which reduce levels of LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) (15). They improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk of breast and colon cancer (2, 3, 4). Use for cooking because it is stable. Make sure it is unrefined, cold-pressed, extra-virgin oil.
Potatoes/Yams/Sweet Potatoes –are high in alkalising nutrients (27). They are excellent detoxifiers, effectively removing toxic metals from the body. They also protect against heart disease, stroke and cancer (3, 25). They are best eaten baked in their skins or boiled. Please remember that fries are unhealthy foods and that when potatoes are cooked with dairy products they lose their health giving properties.
Seaweed – also known as sea vegetables, include arame, dulse, nori, kombu and kelp. They are rich in a whole spectrum of antioxidants and other nutrients. They are powerful detoxifiers capable of removing toxic heavy metals from the body as well as radioactive materials. They contain chemicals that slow cancer growth. One of these molecules is fucoidan, an antioxidant from the same family as lycopene. It is even more effective than lycopene (see tomatoes) in inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer (3, 6, 25). If the seaweeds are dry, soak them before adding them to soups and salads. If they are fresh, rinse them thoroughly to remove residual salt. Seaweeds are eaten daily in the Macrobiotic Cancer Prevention Diet (10).
Soya Beans – rich in phytoestrogens known as genistein and daidzein which reduce the incidence of hormone-related cancers like breast, cervical, ovarian and prostate cancer (2, 3, 4, 6). It is thought that these cancers are due to excessive amounts of male and female hormones in the blood. Phytoestrogens mimic these hormones and compete with them in binding to hormone receptor sites on tumours cells. This retards the growth of the tumours. The phytoestrogens also block angiogenesis (the ability of tumours to grow new blood vessels). There has been some controversy over the involvement of soy in worsening breast cancer (2). However, this may be because the studies were carried out with high concentrations of soy supplements as opposed to using whole food soy. Children should only eat soy foods a few times a week because an excessive amount can cause hormonal imbalances (1).
Spirulina – is a blue-green micro-algae, in the same family as chlorella, marine phytoplankton and AFA blue-green algae. These micro-algae are very rich sources of chlorophyll, proteins, complex carbohydrates and other nutrients. They contain abundant supplies of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) an essential fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to inhibit excessive cell division (16, 25). Their phycocyanin is a powerful anti-cancer substance. Microalgae also accelerate the production of the immune system’s natural killer (NK) cells which destroy cancer cells (24, 25). The microalgae contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which improve heart health and inhibit the formation of breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer. They are available in powder form and can be used in smoothies, green drinks, shakes and salad dressing.
Tomatoes - contain the antioxidant lycopene which is known to reduce the risk of prostate, breast, bladder, lung and stomach cancers (1, 2, 3, 4, 8). Tomatoes are rich in salicylates which thin the blood, promoting heart health. The highest concentration of lycopene is found in cooked tomatoes especially when cooked in olive oil. So eat raw tomatoes for their vitamins and minerals and cooked tomatoes for their lycopene. Other foods containing lycopene are watermelons and pink grapefruit.
Turmeric – is an anti-inflammatory agent which promotes cardiovascular health (2, 4) and may protect against Alzheimer’s disease (2). It contains curcumin which prevents the development of stomach, intestinal, colon, liver, skin and breast cancers (4, 6). It also makes cancer tumours more sensitive to chemotherapy. Turmeric works best when eaten with black pepper. Black pepper improves its absorption.
Whole Grains – include brown rice, whole wheat, millet, whole or rolled oats, rye and corn/maize. Whole grains are unrefined and contain all their antioxidants, nutrients and phytonutrients. They are known to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. They are rich in fibre which accounts for their ability to inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer (2, 3, 8). When whole grains are eaten with a wide variety of other unrefined plant foods they provide the whole spectrum of nutrients required by the body (25).
Where to start
If you have been eating mainly animal products with refined and processed foods it will be very difficult to know where to start with the above healthy foods. People on the Mediterranean Diet, which is primarily plant-based, are known to have very low incidences of cancer and heart disease (4, 11, 13, 14, 15). I am sure that vegan, raw food, alkaline and food combining diets also have low incidences of these diseases but they have not been studied. I would advise you to start with the Mediterranean Diet for which there are many recipes, modifying it as you go along. Do remember the food combining rules which make your food more digestible.