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Five Colorful Foods, One Magical Rainbow

Fruits, Veggies and Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Focused on Health - March 2009

By Rachel Winters

The key to cancer prevention lies just beyond the rainbow. Studies show that if people ate five cups of different colored fruits and vegetables each day, 20% of all cancers could be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is especially colorful news for colorectal cancer prevention.

The word phytochemical simply refers to chemicals that plants (“phyto”) make to protect themselves from sunlight, disease and extreme temperatures – the same way we wear sunscreen to protect ourselves from the sun or take antibiotics when we are sick. By consuming a variety of plant-based foods, human beings can reap the same protective benefits.

Fiber and Cancer Prevention

In addition to phytochemicals, fruits and vegetables also are loaded with fiber, which more than 200 studies have shown helps reduce cancer risks, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

“The thought behind fiber and colorectal cancer prevention is that fiber, in combination with adequate fluid, keeps your bowels functioning properly and thus, contributes to a healthy gastrointestinal track,” Murphy says.

Consuming fruits and vegetables also helps maintain a healthy weight, another key factor in cancer prevention. Adding a colorful variety to your menu can make increasing fruit and vegetable consumption a little more fun and interesting.

“The key to preventing colorectal cancer is eating the whole food instead of just juices or vitamin supplements, which don’t have the same levels of fiber or phytochemicals and may not be as easily absorbed,” Murphy says. “Increase serving sizes gradually to get used to larger portions, and eat fresh, frozen or canned varieties – all of which are okay.”

One way to make a lifestyle change is by finding great recipes. Our five colorful foods and their featured recipes will provide you with the variety of phytochemicals you and your family need to make a bright start towards cancer prevention. These recipes can be paired with your favorite dishes. You also can try more than one of them together on the same night.

Looking for a great dinner party theme? Now you can try “cancer prevention!”


Pomegranates contain the phytochemical anthocyanin. They are not commonly served in their whole form because they can be cumbersome to eat, but there is an easy way to get the fruit’s rich phytochemicals and nutrients. Cut off the crown of the fruit and cut the rest of the fruit into five to seven wedges. Then, place the wedges in a bowl of water, and roll out the juice sacs with your finger. Strain the water, and eat the juice sacs whole, seeds and all.

“Pomegranates are one of the newest cancer prevention food items in the news, but not necessarily because they are better than other fruits,” Murphy says. “That being said, pomegranates are great because people don’t know much about them, so they are fun to seek out and experiment with in recipes.”

Arugula salad with pomegranate and toasted pecans

Recipe adapted from

1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium bunches arugula, rinsed well and thick stems removed
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds, from 1 medium pomegranate

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegars, salt and pepper. Gradually drizzle in olive oil, whisking until emulsified. Toss arugula with just enough vinaigrette to coat. Sprinkle with pecans and pomegranate seeds, and serve.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes contain beta carotene and are wonderful because they are not only packed with phytochemicals, they also are easy to make. You can bake them, mash them, even poke a few holes in them with a fork and microwave them. No matter what you do, they require almost no seasoning and are delicious on their own.

“Eat sweet potatoes with the skin if possible because the skin has fiber and other nutrients,” Murphy says. “Just don’t fry them.”

Clair’s Jerky Sweet Potato Chips

Recipe adapted from Oxygen Magazine

Cooking spray
4 large sweet potatoes
Olive oil spray
1 teaspoon Caribbean jerk spice

Pre-heat oven to 350 F, and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut sweet potatoes into slices about ½ inch thick using a mandolin, or slice with a knife. Place potato rounds in a bowl, spray with olive oil, and sprinkle with jerk spice. Mix. Place onto baking sheet, being careful not to overlap. Bake chips for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden or brown. Transfer to a paper towel and serve.


Kale contains the phytochemical quercetin. It is a great alternative for people who are bored with spinach because it is another dark, leafy green that is not only rich in phytochemicals, but also rich in iron and fiber.

“Kale is better than iceberg lettuce because it has more nutrients,” Murphy says. “Many people don’t know about it, but it is really delicious and surprisingly filling. Plus, you can find it at most grocery stores.”

Steamed Kale

Recipe adapted from

1 bunch (about 1 pound) kale
½ cup water
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

Wash the kale, remove the stems, and chop the leaves into 1 and a half inch wide strips. Heat the water and soy sauce in a large pot or skillet, and add the garlic. Cook 30 seconds, then add the greens, toss to mix, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for three to five minutes. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary to keep the greens from sticking.


Cauliflower contains the phytochemical indole. It is often overshadowed by its colorful counterpart broccoli, which also contains indole, but cauliflower packs the same powerful, nutritive punch. Cauliflower is another food that is easy to make because it can be steamed or chopped-up raw and tossed into a salad.

“What I like about cauliflower is that because of its light color, it’s easy to mash-up, disguise and add to kid-friendly recipes,” Murphy says.

The Commish’s Steamed Cauliflower

Recipe adapted from Women’s Health Magazine

1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
5 cups fresh cauliflower florets (or thawed frozen florets)
¼ cup fat-free sour cream
6 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
4 teaspoon coarse mustard (with seeds)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir cauliflower florets and return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for seven to nine minutes or until cauliflower is tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower into a serving dish and cover. Raise heat to high, and bring broth to a boil for four to five minutes or until liquid is reduced to about two tablespoons. Whisk in sour cream, chives and coarse mustard. Return cauliflower to pan, and toss with sour cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Pink Grapefruit

The pink grapefruit contains lycopene and is usually eaten fresh or raw, but it also can be added to recipes to pack the same phytochemical punch for those who do not like the flavor alone.

“People should try to include the actual grapefruit in recipes because while its juice can be a good way to get phytochemicals, it doesn’t contain fiber and is higher in calories,” Murphy says.

Scallops with Grapefruit and Vanilla Sauce

Recipe adapted from Weight Watchers Magazine

2 small pink or red grapefruit
1 vanilla bean, split
1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
2 ½ teaspoon basil-flavored olive oil
¼ teaspoon white pepper
12 extra-large sea scallops (1 ¼ lb.)
1 (8-oz.) bottle clam juice
¼ cup fat-free sour cream

To make the marinade, juice the grapefruit. Place the left over fruit in a small bowl, and set aside, discarding the membranes. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with a small knife. Add the vanilla bean, vanilla seeds, shallot, a teaspoon of the oil and the pepper to the bowl with the juice; stir until the seeds are eventually distributed. Marinate the scallops in the mixture for 30 minutes.

Remove the scallops from the marinade and set the remaining marinade aside. Heat the remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the scallops, and cook just until lightly golden, about 1 ½ minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining scallops.

Combine the reserved marinade, and clam broth in the skillet. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the shallot is softened, about two minutes. Add the sour cream; beat with a whisk until smooth, and use as a sauce for the scallops. Top the dish with reserved grapefruit. 

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center