Diet plays an important role in preventing and fighting cancer. Some foods increase your risk for this disease while others have known anti-cancer properties. The more of these beneficial foods you eat, the more protection you can get.
In fact, you can reduce your risk of getting cancer by as much as 70% simply by changing your diet. Elaine Hardman, PhD, a 15-year breast cancer researcher at Marshall University in West Virginia, agrees. She says, “I think in the future — and probably the near future — our diet, and making dietary changes, is going to become the biggest weapon for fighting cancer.” Those are powerful words from someone whose life is dedicated to finding solutions to cancer. It’s time we paid more attention to the foods we eat.
I’ve talked about some of these dietary changes in the past. Shiitake mushrooms, blueberries, broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, carrots, cranberries, mushrooms, and soy are all foods with natural chemicals that fight specific cancers.
Now some new, sound scientific studies have found that there are even more foods with properties that fight particular cancers. These foods are both easy to find and tasty. Eat some of them every day whenever you can and tip the scale against cancer.
Preventing Stomach Cancer
You’ve probably heard that broccoli is protective against some forms of cancer. This is because it contains a chemical called sulforaphane, which is a powerful anti-cancer substance. But broccoli’s benefits occur only under particular conditions. And not all forms of this vegetable have the same action.
Sulforaphane needs the enzyme myrosinase in order to protect you against cancer and its inflammation. But overcooking broccoli will destroy myrosinase. Researchers suggest you steam it for just two to four minutes to get maximum benefits. So the first step is to avoid cooking your broccoli to death. It should be bright green and a little “al dente” (firm, but not hard) — not a dark green mush. However, this isn’t the best way to get broccoli’s cancer protection.
The newest form of broccoli is broccoli sprouts. Several years ago, their anti-cancer properties made headlines. These sprouts are, indeed, protective because they’re high in myrosinase. This is important for fighting one of the main causes of stomach cancer.
Half of all the people in the world have a bacterium that lives in their stomach lining. This bug is stubborn. It usually isn’t eradicated with stomach acids like other bacteria. This bacterium is called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori for short. H. pylori can cause ulcers, gastritis, and even stomach cancer.
And, according to a new study, broccoli sprouts can greatly reduce colonies of H. pylori. If you eat it regularly, it can protect you from all of the above, including stomach cancer. Researchers for this study gave 50 people 2½ ounces of broccoli sprouts a day for two months. The broccoli sprouts reduced H. pylori.
We’ve known for years that broccoli is an excellent anti-cancer food. Now we’re finding that broccoli sprouts are even more effective in protecting cells against cancer than mature broccoli. In addition to reducing H. pylori, broccoli sprouts increase the production of enzymes that kill H. pylori, reduce inflammation, and protect against free radicals.
In an animal study, mice that ate broccoli sprouts had 100 times less H. pylori than mice that ate no sprouts. They also had a 50% reduction in inflammation! Broccoli sprouts are small, but mighty. Look for them at your grocery or health food store. If you can’t find them, ask your grocer to carry them.
The head researchers of these studies on broccoli sprouts were so impressed with the results that they began eating them regularly. “I like them,” said Jed W Fahey, MS, ScD, “I eat them all the time, but not every day. Variety is the spice of life. I eat blueberries on the other days.” You can find broccoli sprouts in many supermarkets and health food stores. Add them to your salads or sandwiches. But there’s another option – broccoli powder supplements.
Broccoli powder supplements often contain a precursor to sulforaphane without the needed myrosinase. You may be tempted to pop a few broccoli powder capsules. But that’s not the ideal solution.
Researchers at the University of Illinois tested various forms of broccoli. They found a combination that nearly doubled its protective qualities. The most effective combination was eating broccoli sprouts with the broccoli powder. The myrosinase from the sprouts produced sulforaphane both from the sprouts and from the precursor in the broccoli powder. Add broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower and bok choy, to the sprouts and powder and you have a tasty cancer-fighting dish.
You can boost broccoli’s effectiveness with other foods that naturally contain sulforaphane. These include mustard, radishes, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, arugula, and wasabi. Consider sprinkling broccoli sprouts on your broccoli or using a combination of cruciferous vegetables if you are unable to always get the broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts are sometimes hard to find in your local grocery store. So here’s how to grow them using a mason jar, broccoli sprouts, water, and patience.
Instructions for Growing Broccoli Sprouts:
1. Add 2 tablespoons of broccoli sprouting seeds to a wide-mouthed quart jar.
2. Cover with a few inches of filtered water and cap with the sprouting lid.
3. Store in a warm, dark place overnight. I use a kitchen cabinet for this.
4. The next morning, drain the liquid off and rinse with fresh water. Be sure to drain all the water off.
5. Repeat this three to four times a day. Continue to store your seeds in a warm, dark place. After a few days, the seeds will start to break open and grow. The biology major in me is absolutely enamored with this process!
6. Eventually, the sprouts will be an inch or so long and have yellow leaves. Now you can move the sprouts out into the sunlight.
7. Continue to rinse them three to four times a day until the leaves are dark green. Now they are ready to eat!
8. This whole process will take about a week. Patience is key!
Once they’re ready, replace the sprouting lid with a standard Mason jar lid and store in the refrigerator.
Preventing Breast Cancer
Rui Hai Liu is a researcher at Cornell University’s Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology. Last year alone, he published six studies that showed apples slow down the growth of cancer tumors.
When Liu fed laboratory rats a fresh apple extract equal to an apple a day in humans, 57% of them developed an aggressive form of breast cancer known as adenocarcinoma. This doesn’t sound positive at all, but it is when you compare it to the control group. Eighty-one percent of the control group developed this type of cancer, which is the primary cause of death in breast cancer patients.
But wait. The odds got even better.
This six-month study found that the effect of an apple extract on tumor growth was dose-specific. When rats ate the equivalent of six apples a day, the percentage of rats developing this cancer dropped to 23%! Now, that’s prevention.
Plant-based chemicals known as phenolics or flavonoids are responsible for the cancer-fighting properties in apples and other fruits. But not all fruits contain the same chemicals. Some of the flavonoids found specifically in apples are powerful antioxidants and have the ability to keep tumors from growing.
The fresh apple extracts used by Liu inhibited the size of breast cancer tumors. So the question I had immediately was, “Well, which fruits inhibit cancer the most?” We know that resveratrol from grapes and blueberries is very effective at fighting cancer. Do apples work as well? One researcher looked at how effective 11 different fruits were at fighting cancer-cell proliferation in a lab.
In this study, the researcher started by dripping water on cancer cells as a control. As you might expect, nothing happens. The cancer cells “start out powering away at 100% growth and they keep powering away at 100% growth.” What was surprising was that pineapples, pears, and oranges didn’t do much better. That doesn’t mean these aren’t great fruits for other purposes. But they aren’t the best choice for fighting cancer.
When the researchers used peaches, something started to happen. “At high peach concentrations, cancer cell proliferation drops about 10%.”
The researcher then tried bananas and grapefruits. They “appear to work four times better, dropping cancer growth rates by about 40% percent.” That’s pretty impressive – though not as impressive as red grapes, strawberries, and apples. They did even better, cutting cancer cell growth up to half. And they were able to do this at only half the dose. So apples are far more effective at fighting cancer than many other fruits. However, they’re not the best.
The two fruits that fight cancer the best in this study? You might be surprised to learn that lemons and cranberries were able to show a dramatic drop in cancer proliferation at just tiny doses. So apples are more powerful than bananas, but lemons and cranberries win the day.
Obviously, the more variety of fruit you eat, the better. But this study shows where to focus your efforts. Lemons, berries, grapes, and apples are the best cancer fighters among the most common fruits. So eat that apple a day. Even unsweetened applesauce is great for you. It could keep the oncologist away.
One caveat: I’m deliberately not recommending apple juice. It’s too concentrated with sugar. Remember, all sugars feed cancer cells. And since all fruits have some sugar, it’s best to limit yourself to two pieces of fruit a day.
More on Breast Cancer Prevention
Marshall University’s Dr. Hardman has found another anti-cancer food: walnuts. Walnuts are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than any other nuts. Hardman’s research found that these fats reduced existing tumor growth as well as the incidence of breast cancer in laboratory animals.
She found that the equivalent of two small handfuls of walnuts a day could slow down the progression of breast cancer tumors by 50%. It’s not just the omega-3 fats that are protective against tumor growth. Walnuts contain antioxidants and phytosterols that other studies have found slow down cancer.
There are two steps you can take to prevent or fight cancer. First, reduce foods that promote cancer. These include sugar, fried foods, and processed meats. Second, make sure you eat as many foods with anti-cancer properties as you can each day. This includes broccoli sprouts, apples, and walnuts.