Cancer Preventing Foods

It’s common knowledge that a nutritious diet plays a key role in maintaining good health. But in addition to providing general health benefits, certain foods can actually help to lower your risk of developing many types of cancer.

Cancer is a disease that begins when a cell’s genetic material (DNA) is damaged or mutated. When a mutation occurs, the normal processes that control cell growth no longer work properly, and cells begin to multiply abnormally. Over time, they can form tumors and spread throughout the body.

Only about 10% of cancers are inherited; the majority of cancers are caused by factors in the environment, such as ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), certain viruses, and cigarette smoke. Therefore, many cancers can potentially be prevented by a healthy lifestyle and diet.

To reduce the risk of cancer, eat a high-fiber diet along with five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and limit the amount of meat and fats.

Fiber is the part of plant foods that we can’t digest. Examples of foods high in fiber include whole grains, peas, lentils, beans, fruits and vegetables. Eating a high-fiber diet provides a defense against cancer and other diseases in several different ways.

Fiber retains water and adds bulk, which causes material to move through your digestive system faster. If there are toxins or carcinogens present, they do not remain in the intestines long enough to be absorbed and cause damage to cells.

Another advantage of fiber is that it binds to hormones that are present in the intestine and removes them from your body. High levels of hormones such as estrogen are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Finally, fiber aids in removing toxic bile acids that are secreted into the intestine by the gall bladder. High concentrations of bile acids are believed to cause colon cancer.

In addition to providing a source of fiber in your diet, fresh fruits and vegetables have another potent cancer-fighting property: they contain high amounts of antioxidants.

In the body, oxygen can be changed into an unstable form called a free radical, which can damage cells and cause cancer. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals and prevent their harmful effects. Examples of primary antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein.

Vegetables that are especially rich in antioxidants are usually dark green, yellow, orange or red in color. Swiss chard, kale, bok choy, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, sweet potatoes and squash are excellent sources of these important cancer-preventing nutrients.

Lycopene, a member of the carotenoid family, is another powerful antioxidant. Research indicates that lycopene provides protection against many types of cancers, including stomach, prostate, lung, pancreas, colon, cervix and breast. Red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, red bell peppers, watermelon, strawberries, pink grapefruit, papaya, and guava are good sources of this protective antioxidant.

One last tip: you can’t get these cancer-fighting benefits from a pill. Studies show that supplements do not provide the same protection as the fresh fruits and vegetables themselves. Therefore, to reap the most rewards, eat several generous servings of these healthful foods every day.