The risk of developing cancer has become one of the most thought provoking issues of our time. Worldwide statistics show that as many as 10.9 million people are diagnosed with some form of cancer every year. As research into the food we eat becomes more complex and innovative, it reveals that there are numerous 'super foods' which not only fight cancer cells, but can also help to prevent it from ever occurring.
What is Cancer?
All living things are comprised of a variety of cells, such as kidney cells, brain cells and skin cells.
Cancer develops when a particular cell mutates, then begins to grow and divide. Eventually, these cells form a mass called a malignant tumor, which often starts to invade surrounding tissue and organs.
It is thought that up to one third of cancer related deaths could be diet related. Many of the foods we eat today can in fact be harmful to the cells in our bodies, particularly 'fast food', which often contains high rates of saturated fat.
A large European study has recently shown that 'junk food' may in fact be a major cause of cancer of the pancreas, the urinary tract and of the womb, which makes saturated fat especially dangerous for women. There is however, an abundance of super foods that contain cancer fighting anti-oxidants and enzymes. These foods fall into a number of categories and it is best to look at their properties separately.
Fruit and Vegetables
- Raw carrots are rich in beta carotene and substances called falcarinol and polyacethylens, which can help to impede a wide variety of cancer including, breast, stomach, throat, lung, prostate, bladder and intestinal
- Sweet potatoes are thought to have a number of cancer fighting properties including carotenoids (beta carotene is one form)
- Turnips and their leaves contain a substance called glucose molaes, which is said to attack cancer cells
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and sprouts are rich in the anti-oxidants; lutein and zeaxanthin which are thought to be particularly affective at inhibiting breast and prostate cancer
- Broccoli and sprouts also contain a substance called phytochemical sulforaphane, which is a by-product of glucoraphanin and is especially useful at impeding bowel cancer
- Kale is thought to retain indoles, which are nitrogen compounds and are said to prevent lesions in estrogen sensitive areas, such as the ovaries, mutating into cancerous cells
- Beetroot is full of anti-oxidants that specifically attack lung cancer cells
- Tomatoes carry vitamin C and a carotenoid called lycopene that fights oxygen molecules which are also known as 'free radicals'. Free radicals are often believed to trigger cancer cells. Lycopene is notable in its ability to aid the fight against rectal and colon cancer, as well as prostate, breast, mouth and cancer of the pancreas. Cooked and canned/pureed tomatoes are said to be especially concentrated in lycopene
- Soya bean products such as tofu include phytoestrogens and isoflavones, which when absorbed in sensible amounts (no more than four or five ounces per day) are thought to block and help prevent cancer cells from forming and are particularly associated with lowering the risk of breast cancer. Incidences of breast cancer are significantly lower in Asian countries where soy products are consumed regularly. However, caution must be exercised, as research suggests that eating too much soy may cause hormone imbalances which can in fact stimulate cancer cells
- Avocados have prolific amounts of an anti-oxidant called glutathione. Glutathione attacks free radicals and stops the absorption of certain saturated fats into the intestine. Avocados contain high levels of beta-carotene and potassium, which is also very beneficial for the heart
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes possess high amounts of vitamin C, folic acid and monoterpenes, which can help to eliminate carcinogens from the body and are believed to repress cancer cells
- Papayas carry prolific amounts of vitamin C and folic acid, which are both highly effective anti-cancer components
- Figs contain a form of benzaldehyde, which is renowned for its ability to shrink tumors
- Grapes, particularly the red varieties, include resveratrol and ellagic acid which combine to block the enzymes that are responsible for the growth of cancer cells. They also contain strong anti-oxidants called bioflavonoids
- Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and other berries that are red or black in color consist of a wide variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and plant compounds that are thought to be very beneficial against many forms of cancer
Herbs and Spices
- Rosemary is said to have detoxifying properties and can repress the advancement of tumors. Laboratory tests have revealed that it is principally effective against breast and skin tumors
- Tumeric belongs to the ginger family and it is thought to help reduce the inflammation that is connected to stomach, bowel and colon cancer
- Root ginger has been used by Chinese medics for centuries and is well regarded for its many healing benefits. It can be used as a spice in savoury and sweet dishes and as a herbal tea
- Garlic is well renowned for its blood thinning and anti-bacterial properties. It can also help to eliminate oxidants that cause cancer, such as carcinogens and free radicals. Eating raw or cooked garlic has been found to be far more effective than taking garlic supplements
- Licorice root contains a chemical called glycyrrhizin which is considered to help block the growth of prostate cancer cells, though an excessive consumption of licorice can lead to raised blood pressure
- Chilli peppers are rich in a substance called capsaicin that is regarded to be a preventative against intestinal cancer
- Black, green and white teas retain antioxidants which are also known as polyphenols. These antioxidants are considered to expressly defend against cancer cells and stop them from dividing and spreading. White and green tea is regarded as being particularly efficient against lung, colon, rectal and stomach cancer as well as cancer of the liver and pancreas
- Red wine also contains polyphenols and a substance called resveratrol which has been discovered to be present in grape skin. These antioxidants are known to counter free radicals. It is thought that the pinot noir grape variety contains the largest amounts of resveratrol, particularly in wines where the grapes are grown in cooler, rainy climates, such as Chile in South America. If However, alcohol is consumed in large amounts it can actually be a cause of cancer, so it is best drink no more than one glass of red wine per day
There are many other foods that are considered to be wonderful cancer preventatives. Seaweed and sea vegetables contain fiber, proteins, beta-carotene, folic acid, and a fatty acid called chlorophylone. These forms of vegetable are said to help prevent breast cancer. Nuts and seeds are naturally high in omega-3 fatty acid, which is essential for brain function. Nuts also contain a mineral called selenium and are rich in antioxidants such as quercetin and campferol. Nuts and seeds are regarded as primarily effective at repelling prostate and colon cancer cells, as well as being a natural preventative against the threat of heart disease.
Mushrooms have prolific amounts of potent compounds called polysaccharides. These compounds are thought to build up immunity against cancer cells. Certain varieties of mushroom are perceived to be particularly efficient, these include; reishi, shiitake and maitake, and are widely used in Japanese cuisine.
The benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet have become more apparent as research into cancer and other fatal diseases evolve. A diet rich in vegetables, fruit and lean meat is much more of a priority in our daily lives than it was twenty years ago and medical advice suggests that eating at least five portions of fruit or vegetables per day can significantly lower the risk of many forms of cancer and heart disease, as well as preventing obesity. The threat of obesity is a volatile issue and for the first time in many years the life expectancy of our children is thought to be lower than our own, which is an extremely worrying statistic.
We are bombarded with these frightening medical statistics on a regular basis. Yet the most sensible advice we have been given in recent years is to eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables per day. Taking action now may well lessen our chances of developing cancer and should help to provide numerous other health benefits for many years to come.