5 Foods to Help Fight Cancer


The doctors and nutritional experts with whom I have spoken, and the articles and research studies I have spent a decade reading, all point to the same information: As much as 75 percent of cancer can be linked to our choices. The good news, however, is that we also have proof that specific foods are useful for preventing and healing cancer. 

Woo-hoo! We’ve got this! Habits can be broken. Choices can be changed. As the proverb states, “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, you can always turn back.”

Fight Cancer with High Nutrient Superfoods

Researchers studying dietary factors associated with cancer have learned that there are significant associations between cancer risk and the low intakes of specific nutrients. This fact is important to more than just residents of impoverished areas and inhabitants of famine-stricken nations. In the West, we overeat but are undernourished. And when we are nutrient deficient, we are at risk for cancer. 

Cancer cells are distorted versions of healthy cells. Knowing this, we can focus on feeding the body the nutrients that support healthy cellular function. The fastest way to promote healing is to put a high number of nutritious compounds into the body so it has what it needs to kill aggressive cancer cells. Superfoods—foods rich in compounds that are considered especially beneficial for our health and well-being—are much more powerful than cancer. These foods, which are the foundation of Cancer-Free with Food, help kill cancer cells before they take up residence in our bodies, and stop existing tumors from growing any further. 

It is up to you to put these foods into your body to make it impossible for cancer to and home. Higher intakes of nutrients like vitamin C, carotenoids, retinol, and alpha-tocopherol (a vitamin found in olive and sunflower oils, whole grains, nuts, and leafy green vegetables), as well as lower our overall risk. Many studies show that those who eat a Mediterranean- style diet have the most protection against colorectal, prostate, aerodigestive tract (mouth, esophagus, pharynx, and larynx), and breast cancer. And it improves cancer mortality rates. In countries like Greece and Italy, people regularly consume foods like vegetables, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fruit, fish, and fiber.

Fill up Your Body With the Good Stuff

Never forget that food can be powerful medicine. The food you choose to eat can either assist you in healing your body or in destroying it. So, every day from now on, I want you to ask your- self: “Am I eating enough cancer-fighting foods?” 

Fueling your body on real, wholesome ingredients is fulfilling, so it satisfies urges you might have previously experienced for sugar, fat, and fried foods. For example, if you eat enough good, healthy fats like the ones from avocados and flaxseeds, your cravings for fried foods should diminish. When you alkalize your body with broccoli sprouts and dark green, leafy vegetables, you will be less likely to binge on highly acidic foods, especially once you get some momentum going. And when you are eating a sufficient amount of fresh fruits, especially blueberries, it can satisfy your sweet tooth. 

What exactly makes some foods cancer-causing and other cancer healing? The following foods are incredibly high in antioxidants, so they reduce inflammation. They are also more alkaline than other foods. And they have been proven in studies to kill cancer cells and stop tumor growth. If you are going through cancer treatment right now, these will assist your healing because they contain potent, cancer-killing compounds. If you want to prevent cancer, they will help you stay healthy.

1. Broccoli Sprouts

I became absolutely fascinated with broccoli sprouts when I discovered they are incredibly potent killers of cancer cells because of their unusually high sulforaphane content. Sulforaphane is also found in broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. But broccoli sprouts contain the most of any other vegetable on the planet. 

Paul Talalay, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has researched for 25 years on vegetable compounds, is a major advocate of broccoli sprouts. He says: “Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads and may offer a simple dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk.” In 1992, Talalay and his research team found that sulforaphane has the ability to reinforce the body’s natural defenses against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage.

Over the years, many studies by other researchers have supported Dr. Talalay’s conclusions. One by Jed Fahey, Sc.D., director of the Cullman Chemoprotection Center at Johns Hopkins University, proved that broccoli sprouts provide “dramatic protection” against digestive issues, including stomach cancer, ulcers, gastritis, and overgrowths of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium “strongly associated within inflammation related to digestive cancers.”

During an experiment involving 48 patients with H. pylori infections in which half the volunteers ate 2.5 ounces of broccoli sprouts per day for two months, and half ate the equivalent amount of alfalfa sprouts, which do not contain sulforaphane, biomarkers of infection dropped for the volunteers eating the broccoli sprouts.

Broccoli Sprouts are good for all cancer, and especially useful for . . . 

  • Stomach cancer 
  • Colon cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer8
  • Liver cancer
  • Brain cancer 

If you are doing chemo, radiation, and surgery, you may have a higher risk of developing an infection, so I would strongly advise incorporating broccoli sprouts into your diet at this time. 

Ways of Incorporating Broccoli Sprouts in Your Cancer-Healing Kitchen

Since reading all the studies, I have made broccoli sprouts a weekly staple on my shopping list. I pick up a small container once a week and add sprouts to my juices and smoothies, and use them as garnishes on soups, salads, and gluten-free pasta. To save money, consider growing broccoli sprouts in your own kitchen! 
Dr. Mehmet Oz says, “Broccoli sprouts are best when eaten raw in order to absorb the full nutrient and cancer-fighting properties including glucosinolates, which can prevent cancer.”  Ways to incorporate broccoli sprouts into your diet include:

  • Eat them raw by the handful. 
  • Juice them. 
  • Add them to your salads, soups, and smoothies.

2. Turmeric

Turmeric root is perhaps the most studied and talked about food for preventing and fighting cancer. In fact, it is so powerful that MD Anderson Cancer Center formed a Center for Cancer Prevention by Dietary Botanicals specifically to evaluate the efficacy of using ginger, black pepper, and turmeric—a trio of spices routinely used in Indian food—to heal and prevent colorectal cancer. 
Okay, so we hear about turmeric all the time, but why is it so good? To break it down, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and brain-protecting superfood. The spice made from turmeric root that gives curry its bright yellow color, it has its superpowers because it contains three 
potent compounds: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.

No matter how you do it, consuming turmeric is a no-brainer! The curcuminoid compounds in turmeric have been shown to decrease tumor size in cases of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. 

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center published a study with rats who were exposed to cancer-causing substances. They then treated them with turmeric and found they were protected from colon, stomach, and skin cancers. How amazing is that? Furthermore, in this same study, the replication of tumor cells stopped when turmeric was applied directly to them in the laboratory.

Other laboratory experiments have shown that curcuminoids protect the body in a few more ways: They enhance the activity of a crucial detoxifying enzyme and act as antioxidants by neutralizing free radicals (which cause DNA damage). Detoxifying the body is one of the beneficial healing strategies discussed in Chapter 5.

There is hope for healing colon cancer with turmeric. Functional medicine expert Dr. Mark Hyman recommends turmeric root to reduce gut-based inflammation. Michael Greger, M.D., a founding member of the American Academy of Lifestyle Medicine and author of How Not to Die, states that the low incidence of bowel cancer in India is often attributed to natural antioxidants such as curcumin (the yellow pigment in the spice turmeric used in curry powder), which the majority of Indians consume on a daily basis. And in one small study in 2006, patients at high risk for colon cancer who received 480 milligrams of curcumin and 20 milligrams of quercetin (found in red onions and grapes) three times a day realized a decrease in the number and size of polyps in their colons.

If you are undergoing a course of radiation treatment, it may interest you to know that turmeric may help to reduce skin irritation and damage from radiation, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Mayo Clinic.

Turmeric is especially good for . . .

  • Breast cancer19 
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stomach cancer 
  • Skin cancer 
  • Pancreatic cancer20 
  • Colon cancer21 
  • Lung cancer22
  • Bladder cancer23 
  • Ovarian cancer24 
  • Cervical cancer25 
  • Lymphoma26
  • Oral cancer27

Ways of Incorporating Turmeric in Your Cancer-Healing Kitchen 

  • Turmeric can be used in its whole, raw form (it’s a root that looks similar to ginger but smaller) or in its powdered form. 
  • Incorporate more curry powder into your foods; it always contains turmeric as one of the ingredients. 
  • Add turmeric powder to water, juice, smoothies, eggs, salads, soups, or veggie stir-fry. You can incorporate this daily, especially if you do have cancer. 
  • Make a big batch of soothing curry with chickpeas and quinoa. 
  • Make a turmeric paste with 1 teaspoon turmeric, teaspoon black pepper, and 2 teaspoons of water (though it may not be tasty). You can store the paste in the fridge and stir it into a recipe like a vegetable stir fry, quinoa, or add to a smoothie. 
  • To enhance absorption, try cooking your turmeric in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Also, add black pepper at a ratio of teaspoon black pepper for every teaspoon of turmeric. 
  • Boil turmeric root and make a tea. 
  • Add a smidgen of turmeric powder to green tea or ginger tea. 
  • Buy turmeric or curcumin supplements.

3. Blueberries

Blueberries are a powerful anticancer superfruit. When tested among 20 fruits, guess which one ranked first for antioxidant capacity? Blueberries! The reason? Mainly their many phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, kaempferol, and other flavonoids (these are antibacterial); ellagitannins and ellagic acid; and pterostilbene and resveratrol.  They also contain vitamins C and K, manganese, and fiber.

  • Breast cancer 32 
  • Colon cancer 
  • Bladder cancer 
  • Lung cancer 
  • Esophageal cancer 
  • Skin cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Cervical cancer33

The American Cancer Society writes: “Anthocyanidins, as well as other molecules present in blueberry, would slow the progression of cancer by blocking the development of blood vessels feeding the malignant cells. This antiangiogenic process deprives cancer cells of their supply of oxygen and nutrient molecules needed to reproduce, which makes it a powerful anti-cancer food.”

Blueberries are definitely my berry of choice. While they are sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, they don’t spike blood sugar or create an acid-forming environment in which cancer cells can grow. If you’re not as big a fan as I am, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, golden berries, and goji berries closely follow blueberries in their antioxidant capacity. Try one type, or try them all. Berries can help you introduce plenty of variety to your meals. 

Studies show that blueberries protect the brain, prevent damage to our DNA, and inhibit cancer cell development. Basically, you can imagine that the blueberries you eat are little (beneficial) bombs that go off in your body and increase the pace of natural programmed cancer cell death (apoptosis). They have been proven to kill cancer cells and reduce tumor size— how cool is this! Where’s my bowl?

Blueberries Are Especially Good for . . .

  • Lung cancer 
  • Stomach cancer 
  • Breast cancer 
  • Oral cancer 
  • Pharynx cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Prostate cancer40

Suggested “Dosage”

  • If you have cancer, enjoy 1 cup of blueberries per day—in one or two servings. (This amount is based on findings from a Rutgers University animal study of pterostilbene extract, an antioxidant that comes from blueberry. The animals that ate blueberry extract reduced precancerous lesions in their colons by 57 percent more than animals that didn’t.)34 
  • To prevent cancer, have a cup per day, or every few days. 

Ways of Incorporating Blueberries in Your Cancer-Healing Kitchen

Because blueberries are such a wonderful source of vitamin C, MD Anderson Cancer Center put them on its list of the top five foods to reduce cancer risk. Add blueberries wherever you can! Get creative. I add blueberries to juices, smoothies, cereal, and desserts. I’m fond of adding them to the Chocolate Block. In addition: 

  • You may eat blueberries fresh, frozen, dried, or powdered—all forms are good. 
  • Eat blueberries as a stand-alone snack. 
  • Freeze fresh blueberries for an icy treat.

4. Broccoli

I love when studies are done to show that vegetables have anti-cancer properties. Broccoli is, of course, one of the most studied among the vegetable family. Broccoli gets its own section here, separate from broccoli sprouts because they have vast nutritional differences. They are completely different ingredients, both beneficial in their own right. Research shows that broccoli contains “compounds that may protect the body from stomach cancer, as well as cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.” And when we break down broccoli, we can see why. 

This mighty, green, treelike veg is in the cruciferous vegetable family, along with cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale. They are all excellent or good sources of immune-boosting vitamins, nutrients, and phytochemicals: vitamin C, sulforaphane, manganese, vitamin K, folate, vitamin B, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and carotenoids, such as beta- carotene. Carotenoids inhibit cancer growth, support the immune system, and aid vision and skin health. Broccoli is also rich in glucosinolates, a compound found in all cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates from isothiocyanates and indoles, which are known to prevent tumor growth and decrease the production of cancer cells, which stop cancer from being able to survive in the body.

In a five-year study of patients in Spanish hospitals, researchers observed a reduced risk of cancer by those who consumed broccoli and pumpkin. They concluded that the frequent consumption of leafy greens and other vegetables might be associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer.

Broccoli is especially good for . . .

  • Breast cancer47 
  • Colon cancer48 
  • Skin cancer49 
  • Colorectal cancer 
  • Endometrial cancer 
  • Lung cancer 
  • Prostate cancer50 
  • Side effects of radiation therapy51

Suggested “Dosage” 

  • If you have cancer, eat 1 to 2 cups of broccoli per day. 
  • To prevent cancer, eat a cup at least every third day. The National Cancer Institute reports that three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts) a week may reduce prostate cancer risk by nearly 50 percent.41 Empowering info!

Ways of Incorporating Broccoli in Your Cancer-Healing Kitchen

There are so many ways to eat broccoli! You can eat it raw, steamed, or roasted with some olive oil, garlic, and sea salt. My favorite way to eat broccoli is roasted and sprinkled with some nutritional yeast so it tastes a bit like cheesy popcorn. It makes a great side dish or even an entire meal. You could:

  • Puree steamed broccoli with avocado, garlic, and hemp or tigernut milk for a refreshing cold soup. 
  • Dip raw broccoli into guacamole or hummus for a snack. 
  • Add broccoli to soups or vegetable and bone broths. 
  • Add it to smoothies or juices

5. Flaxseed 

Flaxseed (also known as linseed) can be ground into our called ax meal and cold-pressed into an oil. Flaxseed is one of the top anti-cancer foods due to the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) it contains, which is a prime source of omega-3 fatty acids. ALA protects the kidneys from damage. 

Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are great vegan sources of omega-3s. Having a sufficient amount of omega-3 in the body is good for the brain, and can help prevent the depressive moods that are a common symptom of a cancer diagnosis.

Adding more flax to your diet is an incredibly promising action for reducing cancer risk. Flaxseed also contains lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that changes estrogen metabolism because it binds to some of the same receptors. Animal studies have shown that the lignans in flaxseed oil reduce breast cancer growth and spread. Cancer prevention studies of postmenopausal women showed that flaxseed supplementation improved the ratio of hormones in women’s bodies, making them less hospitable environments for cancer to occur. 
One study with mice shows it may work well alone or as an adjunct to Tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent breast cancer recurrence.

Ways of Incorporating Flaxseed in Your Cancer-Healing Kitchen

  • Add flaxseed or ax meal to your cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, and salads. 
  • Grind up flaxseeds yourself at home to make a meal or ax our, or buy ax meal and add to cereals and oatmeal. 
  • You can use ax meal instead of eggs in baking. Just mix 3 teaspoons of ax meal and 4 teaspoons of water, then let the mixture sit for 10 minutes and it will get gummy, like eggs. 
  • Add to grass-fed beef meatballs and lentil loaf. 
  • Add ax oil to your eggs, smoothies, salads, and soups.

While chemotherapy and radiation may have their place in coming back from cancer, a holistic approach including dietary and lifestyle factors may be just as (if not more) impactful. Discover how you can heal holistically from cancer with Chris Wark's Square One, the number one program for anyone impacted by the disease.

This is a shortened excerpt from Liana Werner-Gray’s book Cancer-Free with Food. For the full list of references and full excerpt please see her book here. Liana Werner-Gray is also a featured expert in the Food Matters Nutrition Certification Program.

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