When it comes to cancer, the stats are scary — one in two men and one in three women will get cancer sometime in their life. While that reality is daunting, don’t let it make you feel powerless.
Everyday actions can make a difference in our ability to beat cancer. Making positive lifestyle choices like not smoking and not over consuming alcohol are key. But, smaller day-to-day actions such as wearing sunscreen and carefully choosing what to put on your plate (and what not to) can also have a significant impact. While many of us love our steak and prosciutto, limiting red and processed meats (and not charring meat when you cook it) is a good practice. Plant-forward diets, whether or not they include small amounts of meat and/or fish, are linked to reduced risk of cancer. Simply bulking up on vegetables at each meal can play a protective role! (Just add a serving of roasted broccoli or a handful of snap peas to your lunch to level up.) While nearly all plant foods offer some benefits, the following nutrient superstars may give you a greater boost.
- Cranberries: Rich in flavanols, anthocyonins, and proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that may limit development of cancer cells, these tart berries aren’t just for your Thanksgiving table. Their vitamin C and fiber content give them even greater cancer-fighting properties. Don’t reach for the canned sauce though – make your own to limit added sugar or make whole wheat cranberry muffins.
- Broccoli: This stalky vegetable standard provides glucosinolates, a phytonutrient that has been linked to reduced risk of a number of cancers, including breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. Not a fan of broccoli? Try Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, arugula, watercress or one of the many other cruciferous vegetables that offer similar benefits.
- Garlic: Full of many anti-cancer compounds, garlic and other alliums such as onions and scallions have been linked to reduced risk of breast, stomach, colon, and esophageal cancers. Sauté for the base of a sauce or stir-fry, or add to a salad dressing and enjoy the aroma as you cook!
- Dark leafy greens: Vegetables like kale, collards, and romaine lettuce (among others) are chock full of carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to reduce free radical damage to cells and slow tumor growth. Greens are not just for salads — sauté them with garlic (double cancer-fighting whammy!), add to a soup or stew, or mix into pasta dishes.
- Barley: Full of insoluble fiber, which helps increase transit time in your digestive tract, barley and other whole grains may reduce your risk of colon cancer. Whole grains also provide selenium, a mineral with antioxidant properties, as well as many phytonutrients that may play a preventative role as well. Experiment with whole grains in salads, soups, stews, or as a sweet or savory breakfast porridge.
- Grapefruit: Blushing pink or sunny yellow, this perky citrus fruit is good source of dietary fiber as well as vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Choose the pink or red variety for a dose of two carotenoids, beta-carotene and lycopene, which may reduce your risk of a variety of cancers including lung, stomach, and prostate. Enjoy with your breakfast, as a snack, or brighten up your salads with grapefruit wedges.
- Apples: Could an apple a day keep the doctor away? Research shows that quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples may slow development of breast, lung, and colon cancer.
- Coffee: Yes, your morning cup of joe could do more than wake you up. There is some convincing evidence that coffee plays a role in reducing the risk of liver and endometrial cancer, and possibly pancreatic and kidney. Keep it to one to two cups per day and don’t drink coffee after 2 p.m. as it can affect your sleep.
For the best protection, fill your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. We mean it. Every day. By making plants the star of your plate, and using meat and dairy as a garnish, you can amplify your cancer-fighting superpowers. Need some inspiration? Here are some great ways to add plants to your plate.