If you’re at risk of developing cancer, eating cancer fighting foods is just another way to heal your body.
According to the most recent and in-depth data, it is estimated that less than one-third of all cancers have a genetic component (1).
The rest are caused by a combination of lifestyle factors such as environment, diet, and behavior.
If you stay active, avoid toxins as much as reasonably possible, and eat right, you will drastically reduce your chances of developing cancer.
On that note, here are 24 cancer fighting foods you can easily incorporate into your diet to help keep you healthy. Whether or not you’re fighting cancer, these foods are hard to resist.
1. Green Tea
Green Tea is at the top of any cancer prevention food list as it contains two amazing antioxidant powerhouses: EGCG and Quercetin (2,3) EGCG stands for epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which is a type of polyphenol antioxidant with an impressive clinical resume. In scientific and clinical studies, EGCG was found to not only interrupt cancer cell signals but induce cancer cell death (known as apoptosis). It also reduces inflammation, which is a very important part of cancer prevention. Quercetin another well-known antioxidant is available in supplement form in most natural food stores. Nothing beats getting these compounds through whole food methods, however. Quercetin helps to reverse cell oxidation (a type of cell damage) and also induces apoptosis and inhibits cancer cell growth in clinical studies. Green tea can (and should) be consumed daily. Just be sure you don’t steep in water at too high of a temperature or you’ll destroy some of its beneficial components. Allow boiling water a few minutes to cool before adding your tea.
Blackberries contain a very high amount of anthocyanins, which protect against skin cell damage from UV rays (4). Drinking blackberry juice alone will kill damaged skin cells, helping prevent skin cancer. That being said, the whole fruit version is always better than a fruit juice to ensure you get the all-important fiber from the plant. Bonus: consuming richly-colored fruits (like blackberries) and vegetables during/after an illness or injury will help you heal faster due to plant phenols (5). These compounds help prevent cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancers (6). To enjoy the full benefits of any berry, do not cook them – heat will degrade the anthocyanins they contain.
Like green tea, raspberries contain a healthy amount of the antioxidant quercetin. Quercetin is a popular supplement for the treatment and prevention of heart disease, inflammation, and circulation problems. They are also rich in anthocyanins, which are particularly effective in preventing against breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and interrupting the spread of leukemia. Raspberries are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, biotin, fiber, and manganese (7). As always, enjoy raspberries in their whole form. They make a great, low-calorie and low sugar dessert. You can also add them to smoothies, yogurts, cereals, or oatmeal.
As you may have guessed, blueberries are also full of anthocyanins. In fact, they have the highest anthocyanin levels of any berry. Load up on this yummy fruit if you have a family history of colon cancer (or any cancer, really). Blueberries are a true superfood, rich in nutrients like vitamins A, K, and C, iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. Consuming blueberries regularly is linked to improved memory and cognition in seniors, and may help decrease blood pressure, prevent cancer and heart disease, and even fight wrinkles (8)! Look for blueberries that are dry, plump, and a rich blue in color. Size does not determine ripeness, so don’t discriminate against the little ones. You can also grow your own! Blueberries make a wonderful dessert, perhaps with a bit of whipped cream and strawberries. You can also add them (frozen, dried or fresh) into yogurts, smoothies, or mixed in with nuts as an alternative to raisins.
There’s very little – if anything – bad that one can say about lemons. Drinking a bit of lemon water (cold or hot) first thing in the morning is proven to aid digestion, boost your immune system, improve cognitive function, and freshen your breath. The natural enzymes in lemon juice will also improve nutrient absorption of whatever food it is consumed with, especially iron-rich foods. Adding lemon juice, zest, oil, or just plain whole pieces of lemon to your dishes will instantly brighten their flavors and keep your tummy happy after the meal. There is a slew of ongoing research aimed at determining the anticancer potential of lemon and other citrus fruits (9). Lemons naturally detox your body, aid in weight loss, reduce inflammation, and are a rich source of antioxidants and bioflavonoids– all of which are important to guard your body against disease.
Definitely not the most popular food on this list, onions are way more awesome than they get credit for. They come in an array of colors – each with its own flavor – and are a great bit of zesty flavor for nearly any dish. So what makes onions so great? They actually contain more polyphenols than garlic (discussed a bit later in this list), which are crucial to a healthy gut microbiome (10). The good bacteria in your stomach and intestines not only helps keep your weight in check but contributes to as much as 90% of your body’s serotonin production and 80% of your body’s immune system. Onions are absolutely packed with amino acids (the building blocks of protein and muscle) and quercetin (11). They are also rich in a sulfur-based compound known as allicin, a powerful antibacterial that can also improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Add a variety of onions to chilis, soups, salads, slaws, sandwiches, and so much more.
7. Leafy Green Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables cover a variety of different edible plants: arugula, spinach, collard greens, kale, chard, ect… They may differ slightly in appearance and flavor, but they are all rich in fiber and nutrients. Thanks to their mild flavor, you can add almost any leafy green to juices and smoothies (which is a great way to sneak them to little ones). More than just about any other nutrient, these plants contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is responsible for the green coloring and key to the plant’s oxygenating processes. When consumed, chlorophyll helps to flush toxins from the body, aids in digestion, freshens breath, and even promotes wound healing (12). Eating leafy green salads regularly will benefit you in several ways. The high fiber content helps keep you full and prevent constipation. The high nutrient levels ensure you’re not missing out on your vitamins and minerals compared to higher calorie foods. You can also add a few of these plants to stews, or sautee/steam them as a side dish.
This very well-known superfood gained an incredible amount of popularity a few years ago, and for good reason. Kale is full of vitamins and minerals – namely iron, calcium, and potassium (13). It also contains high levels of the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane. Sulforaphane boosts your immune system and inhibits cancer cell activation. One study even found that consuming a diet rich in sulforaphane helped reduce and prevent ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria (14). Kale can be prepared several different ways, but most people avoid eating kale raw because the high fiber content can cause digestive distress. Kale can easily be juiced or added to smoothies, but most people enjoy them sautéed in coconut oil or grass-fed butter. If you’re trying to kick a potato chip habit, baked kale chips are a great and healthy alternative that will provide you with a satisfying crunch.
The reason turmeric is such an amazing spice is due to a flavonoid known as curcumin. It’s a popular ingredient in curries, but some cultures will put turmeric into almost everything they eat or drink. Curcumin is most well-known as an anti-inflammatory, shown to be just as effective as over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. It’s also shown to be helpful in treating depression, heartburn, arthritis, bloating, diarrhea, jaundice, gallbladder issues, and arthritis (15,16). As for turmeric’s anti-cancer properties: it helps prevent cancer cell development, expression, tumor growth, metastasis, and even induces apoptosis. Researchers are hopeful to be able to use curcumin alongside chemotherapy. This, in theory, will help reduce the side effects and increase the efficacy of the chemotherapy.
This food requires quite a bit of preparation and even more work to actually eat it, but artichokes are a definite must-add to your diet. Used for centuries in holistic and alternative medicine, artichokes can help prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing bad cholesterol and lowering blood glucose levels. Depending on the part of the plant consumed, artichokes benefit the gallbladder, urinary tract, kidneys, and help to cleanse the digestive tract (17). You can juice artichokes to get all the goodness from the leaves and stem. If that’s not your preference, then try steaming artichokes and serving with a bit of lemon and grass-fed butter. Artichoke leaves are a great alternative to chips for hummus or another kind of dip.
One of the most beloved spices on earth, garlic is just plain awesome. A relative of onions, garlic is rich in allicin – the antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral component that contributes hugely to garlic’s health benefits (and signature smell). According to WebMD, there is sufficient clinical evidence to show that garlic can help treat and/or prevent all of the following conditions: colon and rectal cancers, high blood pressure, ringworm, jock itch, prostate cancer, tick bites, atherosclerosis, athlete’s foot, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, Helicobacter pylori infections, lung cancer, peripheral arterial disease, and pre-eclampsia. And the list grows longer every year (18,19). Garlic boosts the antioxidant benefits of any meal it’s added to. Fresh garlic is best, but garlic in any form will do for at least some benefits. Add to any savory dishes, or take in pill form if you have trouble with the flavor or smell.
In addition to a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, tomatoes are rich sources of lycopene, a powerful anti-cancer compound. It’s been shown to induce cancer cell death and disturb cancer cell communication, and also reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease (20). Lycopene contributes to the bright red and/or pink coloring of fruits and vegetables. While clinical research on the health benefits of tomatoes (and lycopene, specifically), there is no doubt that eating whole, natural foods that are bright and varied in color is one way to ensure a healthy diet (21). Tomatoes are great in salads, homemade marinaras, sandwiches, soups, and more. Stick to fresh tomatoes by growing your own. Bioavailability of tomato’s lycopene is increased when consumed with dairy products, so don’t be afraid to combine with grass-fed butter or cheeses.
13. Olive Oil
The Mediterranean Diet is widely renowned as the best overall dietary approach for the vast majority of humans. Olive oil is a cornerstone of the typical Mediterranean diet, both for its versatility and health benefits. It’s comprised mostly of the renowned polyunsaturated fat Omega-3 fatty acids.Omega-3’s are one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol without medication, reducing the risk of heart disease. Recent research also shows that the compounds in olive oil may be effective in the treatment of estrogen-sensitive breast cancers (22). Use olive oil as a base for cooking in lieu of butter or unhealthier oil options. When given the choice of salad dressings, always opt for olive oil and vinegar. Olive oil also makes a great natural sunscreen and moisturizer if you’re looking for chemical-free options.
14. Dark Chocolate
Any chocolate that is at least 70% cacao is considered dark chocolate. While not as sweet as its mainstream milk chocolate counterpart, the flavor and health benefits of dark chocolate are truly impressive. Studies show that the regular consumption of dark chocolate can help improve your life in a number of ways: reduced snacking, reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved mental health, and more (23). Dark chocolate contains a respectable amount of polyphenols, which have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Use dark chocolate in place of sugar-filled desserts when possible. Eat a piece or two of dark chocolate regularly for both mental and physical benefits. Better yet, make your own superfood chocolate.
Oregano oil is one of the most powerful antimicrobial agents known to man – especially in the form of oregano essential oil (24). Incredibly high in antioxidants, oregano is one of the most popular cooking herbs. Whether you use the whole-leaf version or essential oils in your dishes, oregano will stimulate and aid your liver in detoxifying your body. The plant itself is actually very rich in fiber, which helps to regulate blood sugar and improve digestion. For fighting off illness, very little can match oregano in ease of use and effectiveness. In addition to stimulating your liver, oregano also encourages the production of white blood cells to boost your immunity and help you recover from illness, fight cancer, and heal injury (25). Add oregano to any savory dish to boost both the flavors of your dish and the effectiveness of your immune system.
We all know ginger as the spicy ingredient most of us turn to when our stomachs are upset. It works very well for nausea, no doubt. Ginger is also proven to have significant anti-cancer properties, especially for gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers (26,27). You can make your own ginger tea by steeping pieces of the root in hot water, or add ginger pieces or ginger essential oil to stews, soups, salad dressings, marinades, etc… Since ginger also has antimicrobial and anti-parasitic properties, you’ll be protecting yourself against more immediate threats as well.
If you haven’t used cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower rice in lieu of their high-carb counterparts, you need to try it! Cauliflower is a wonderful low-calorie substitute for rice and gluten-rich breads, since you can prepare it in a way that the texture is similar to the original dish. Best of all: it’s so good for you (28)! Cauliflower contains folate, a key vitamin necessary for cell growth (especially during pregnancy) and to prevent DNA changes that can lead to cancer. Healthy folate levels are associated with decreased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and degenerative brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s (29).
18. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts may have been the bane of your existence as a child, but they really are very tasty and incredibly good for you. These little cruciferous veggies are full of vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. Little known fact: Brussel sprouts have a lot of protein! Even though they’re very low calorie, over one-quarter of their calories are from protein (30). Like other vegetables in the same family, brussels sprouts contain high levels of anti-cancer phytochemicals and antioxidant flavonoids. Brussel sprouts are a great addition to any dinner – sprinkle with other healthy herbs and spices, sauté or bake in a bit of olive oil (or grass fed butter), or steam them. If you’re in the mood for something crunchy, you can remove the little leaves from the stems and bake them into crunchy little chips.
There may not be a more beloved food on this entire list than avocados. Although it’s actually a fruit, avocados are usually seen as vegetables due to their color and savory flavor. Full of B-vitamins (including folate), antioxidants, vitamins C and E, avocados also have the highest fiber content of any fruit (31). Plus, their seeds fight cancer. And while avocados are high in fat, they are rich in monounsaturated fat, which is the good kind of fat that can help lower bad cholesterol levels (32). These fats also lower breast cancer risk (33). Avocados are the perfect addition to salads, smoothies, as a dip (guacamole), or enjoy them alone with a bit of sea salt for a filling and heart healthy snack.
20. Nuts and Seeds
If you don’t already keep nuts and/or seeds at your desk for that mid-afternoon energy slump – get on it! Not only are they a healthier alternative than the candy bars you’ll find in the snack bar, but they’ll keep you more alert and satisfied until dinner. Nuts, according to the American Heart Association (AMA) are truly little “powerhouses of taste and nutrition”. They have protein, fiber, and a broad array of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants – an impressive resume for such a small food source (34). Seeds, like nuts, are incredibly nutrient rich. Both are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids as well, so they’ll help support your brain function and keep your heart healthy. Nut and seed butters (no sugar added, if possible) will also keep you full. Spread with vegetables for a fun dip, or make your own trail mix with some of the fruits listed above.
Another one that you may have hated as a child, broccoli really should be part of your diet on a regular basis. Aside from the mountain of vitamins and minerals in broccoli, it is one of the best sources of fiber you can find (35). As far as anti-cancer properties, broccoli encourages cancer cell death (apoptosis) and is known to slow cancer cell growth and metastasis in clinical studies (36). You can eat broccoli raw, steamed, add to salads or soups. Roast broccoli with other vegetables (like brussels sprouts and cauliflower) tossed in olive oil and sprinkled with garlic, sea salt, turmeric, and pepper for an incredibly healthy and filling side dish.
Who doesn’t need a little fungus in their life? Not usually considered to be nutritional given their dull coloring, mushrooms are actually rich sources of B vitamins, iron, selenium, and potassium (37). They’ve been used for millennia in Eastern medicine improve one’s immune response, to include fighting cancer (38).
Mushrooms can be enjoyed raw or cooked, and provide an awesome umami flavor and velvety texture. The larger varieties like Portobello mushrooms can even replace meats as a veggie burger or mushroom steak – season it just as you would regular meat, and enjoy!
This little powerhouse of a plant is a favorite in Eastern and alternative medicine circles as there is very little ginseng can do for you. It is particularly effective at boosting the immune system and brain function. Animal studies with ginseng found that it lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels without side effects.
Human trials found that ginseng decreased fatigue and inflammation fowling athletic activities. In the medical world, ginseng is used to treat angina, HIV and AIDS, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, and to support the immune system (39). The most common and popular way to incorporate ginseng into your diet is through ginseng tea. It is best to use freshly ground ginseng root, but a pre-made tea packet or powder will work too.
24. Kale and Broccoli Sprouts
We’ve already discussed broccoli and kale individually, so this section is actually referring to the sprouts of the veggies.
In the younger form, the sprouts of cruciferous vegetable provide all the same benefits as the larger plant – but in much higher concentrations. So, you won’t need as much to get the same benefits. You may even find that you enjoy the sprouts better. Add them to sandwiches, wraps, salads, or use as a garnish on bigger dishes. They provide a satisfying crunch and texture!
If you or someone you know if suffering from cancer, chemotherapy isn’t your own option: here are a few cancer-fighting tips. From cannabis oil to cancer-fighting juices, nature always has the best medicine.