Cancer Fighting Foods

By Anita Romaniw

You've heard it before . . . eat your broccoli, it's good for you. Well, it's true. Eating more broccoli, citrus fruits, onions and soy beans may help protect you from cancer. And not just because of the nutrients they contain - but mostly because of the chemicals found in these foods. They're called "phytochemicals," meaning plant chemicals, and there are hundreds of them found in plant foods. Examples of phytochemicals are indoles in broccoli and genstain in soybeans.

Over the past 20 years, scientists all over the world have consistently found that people who eat greater amounts of vegetables and fruits have lower rates of cancer. Why that is, we don't exactly know. We can't prove that fruits and vegetables alone can curb cancer, but we do know they play a key role.

When animals are fed vegetables and fruits before being exposed to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), they are less likely to develop cancer. Not enough studies have been done on humans to make as clear a connection. But the fact remains: those who eat more fruit and vegetables are less susceptible to cancer.

Which plant foods are the best cancer fighters? Following are foods containing some of the more widely studied phytochemicals:

  • Garlic, onions, leeks and chives may make carcinogens easier to excrete.
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, turnips) may block carcinogens from damaging the genetic make-up of your cells.
  • Soy beans/dried beans may help prevent cancerous tumours from developing.
  • Citric fruits, grapes and other fruits may help dispose of potential carcinogens.
  • Whole grains may help to prevent cell damage from taking place.

People often ask - which is best, raw or cooked? With regard to phytochemical content, it really doesn't matter; even canned, frozen and juiced produce pack a phytochemical punch. However, raw or steamed vegetables provide the best overall nutrient value.

Do phytochemicals come in pill form? Not yet, but perhaps in 10 years. Of course, isolating a few compounds in a pill will not provide you with the hundreds of other protective benefits that plant foods provide. Your best deal: Get your phytochemicals by eating a variety of plant foods every day, starting today.

Anita Romaniw, B.A.Sc., R.D.N., is the Community Nutritionist at the Upper Fraser Valley Health Unit, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada (604) 864-3400


 
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