anti cancer foods
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
December 7, 2023 ·  8 min read

8 of the Best Anti-Cancer Foods. It’s Time to Start Adding them to Your Diet

According to the American Cancer Society, the average adult in the United States has about a forty percent chance of developing cancer during their lifetime [1]. Because it is such a prevalent disease, doctors and scientists are constantly searching for treatments and cures. When it comes to cancer research, one of the main focuses is prevention. While most experts agree that there is nothing you can do to guarantee that you will not develop cancer, there are many lifestyle factors that can help decrease your risk significantly. One of these is diet. Eating certain anti cancer foods, while not likely to actively fight cancer, can help prevent it.

“Research tells us that making healthy food choices consistently over time can reduce your risk of getting cancer, but you can’t say with absolute certainty that food can prevent cancer,” says wellness dietitian Lindsey Wohlford. “There are no guarantees.” [2]

The dietary habits that affect cancer risk can be attributed to having too much of some things, and too little of others. Too much red & processed meats, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and sugars, can increase your cancer risk. So too can too little exercise and too few phytochemical-rich foods [3].

You may have heard the term “anti cancer foods” before. To be clear, there are no foods that can actually fight against cancer, however there are some foods that, when consumed regularly, provide your body with certain nutrients that it needs in order to effectively prevent cancer from developing.

“Anti cancer foods” are usually plant foods that contain phytochemicals (mentioned above). Also referred to as phytonutrients, these chemicals are compounds found in plants that can help prevent a number of chronic diseases, including cancer [2].

In order to decrease your risk of developing cancer, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, and other health care practitioners recommend that you eat a variety of phytochemical-rich fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.

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8 Anti Cancer Foods to Help Lower Cancer Risk

Wohlford says that the best way to get the most protection from cancer is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and the easiest way to do this is to “eat the rainbow”- that is, choose a wide variety of colors when you’re at the grocery store.

“Keep in mind that there are more than 4,000 phytochemicals that have been discovered and researched,” she says. “There’s not any one super-food that contains all of them. They all offer different functions and benefits.” [2]

The following foods are known as cancer-fighting powerhouses. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but including them in your diet is a good start to lowering your cancer risk.

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and turnips, among many others. They are rich in a number of important nutrients, including carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin), vitamins C, E, and K, folate, and minerals [4].

These hearty vegetables are also an excellent source of glucosinolates, indoles, and isothiocyanates, which are the sulfur-containing chemicals that give cruciferous vegetables their pungent aroma. These compounds have been associated with a lower risk of lung and colorectal cancer [5].

Research has indicated that eating cruciferous vegetables can lower your risk for developing several types of cancers, including prostate, colorectal, lung, and breast cancer [4].

2. Turmeric

This popular, bright orange spice comes from the root of the turmeric plant and is related to the ginger family. There are over one hundred different compounds in turmeric, but the curcumin it contains is the active ingredient that provides most of its benefits [6].

There is some research to show that turmeric may play a role in the prevention of cancer, possibly because it lowers inflammation levels throughout the body. Inflammation underlies most chronic diseases, including cancer, so decreasing inflammation in your body can help to prevent it.

Other studies suggest that including curcumin in chemotherapy treatment may make it more effective [7] and that it may protect healthy cells from damage due to radiation treatment [8].

3. Mushrooms

A study of over 36 thousand Japanese men over several decades has suggested that eating mushrooms can lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, especially for men over the age of fifty [9].

Mushrooms are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in particular L-ergothioneine, which is believed to mitigate oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, as well as environmental toxins, that can lead to chronic inflammation and disease [9].

Another study also found that consuming mushrooms had a preventative effect on breast cancer in women [10].

Medicinal mushrooms, which usually refer to more exotic, specialty mushrooms, have also shown promise in preventing cancer, again because of their glutathione, ergothioneine, and polysaccharide content [11].

Examples of these kinds of mushrooms include reishi, turkey tail, shiitake, and maitake varieties. Studies have found that these fungi affect your body’s antitumor mechanisms, by stimulating certain immune cells [12]. Turkey Tail is particularly notable and contains a unique polysaccharide known as PK (polysaccharide K), a known cancer adjunct therapy for the immune system [21].

4. Allium Vegetables

Allium vegetables include onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic. While studies of these vegetables’ effect on cancer have been observational, scientists around the world have consistently found a link between eating garlic and onions and preventing cancers of the gut, like colon cancer [13].

In fact, a 2019 study of over 1600 Chinese men and women found that those who ate more garlic and onions had a 79 percent lower chance of developing colorectal cancer [14].

Read: Eat Your Water: 13 of the Most Hydrating Foods

5. Wakame

There have been some animal and lab studies to suggest that eating wakame, an edible type of seaweed, can suppress the growth of breast cancer, colon cancer, and kidney cancer cells [15,16].

The success of these studies has not yet been replicated in humans, so more research is necessary to determine the exact role that wakame plays in cancer prevention.

Wakame is also an excellent source of iodine, an essential mineral. When it comes to iodine and disease prevention, studies have shown that either too much or too little can have an effect when it comes to reducing your risk of thyroid cancer [22]. So in this case your goal should be to obtain adequate iodine from your diet.

Wakame on average contains around 42mcg [23] of iodine per serving, which is about 28% of your daily intake [24].

6. Lycopene-Rich Foods

There is a growing body of research to suggest that consuming foods rich in lycopene can lower your risk for certain types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer [17].

Lycopenes are a type of antioxidant in the carotenoid family that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and grapefruits their red and pink colors. As a whole, carotenoids have been associated with a lower risk of lung and colorectal cancer [18].

Tomatoes*, guava, watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, and cooked red peppers are all good sources of lycopene.

*Note: Lycopene is actually more concentrated in processed tomato products like sauces, and pastes, and is not degraded by the cooking.

7. Beta Carotene-Rich Foods

Dietary carotenoids* have been linked to a lower risk of developing lung cancer, however more research needs to be done to determine the effect of consuming beta carotene through food on cancer prevention  [18].

Carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are excellent sources of beta-carotene.

*Note: Supplemental beta-carotene has not shown the same effect. In fact, it may increase cancer risk [18]. It’s always best to get your beta-carotene from foods.

8. Fatty Fish

There is some research to suggest that including a few servings of fatty fish, such as albacore tuna, salmon, atlantic herring, mussels, anchovies, and sardines every week can reduce your risk for developing certain cancers.

This is likely because of their high vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acid content, both of which are believed to reduce the risk of disease, including cancer [19,20].

Read: 10 Superfoods to Add to Your Breakfast for More Energy

Honorable Mentions

This is by no means a definitive list of the best foods to prevent cancer, and there are many other anti cancer foods that also contain important nutrients that reduce your risk of disease. 

Other cancer-fighting foods include berries and citrus fruits, lentils, legumes and eggs, whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal, olive oil, and green or white tea [2].

As previously mentioned, what you don’t eat can be just as important in terms of cancer prevention, and limiting your intake of processed meats, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar can also reduce your risk for disease.

Additionally, other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, a lack of physical activity, and chronic stress can also increase your risk for cancer [2].

Do Your Best to Decrease Your Risk

Although there is nothing you can do to bring your risk of developing cancer to an absolute zero, eating a healthy, plant-focused diet that is low in processed foods, getting plenty of exercise, drinking water, and avoiding risky behaviours like smoking or excessive drinking can reduce your risk significantly.

This type of lifestyle will also help you to feel better overall, and you will have more energy to engage in the activities you enjoy. We may not be able to prevent cancer entirely, but we can create an internal environment that promotes health and vitality.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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