Looking for that one magical food that will keep you cancer-free? Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. But certain foods can help reduce your chances of developing cancer – especially when eaten as part of a healthy diet.
Katie Bispeck, research dietitian in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson, shares her list of foods that women should include in their diet to lower their cancer risks. “But that doesn’t mean you should eat these foods and nothing else,” Bispeck says.
She recommends a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (like beans or lentils) to give your body the range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs. Eating a variety of healthy foods also helps prevent weight gain and can lower body fat.
“Excess body weight increases the amount of hormones in your body,” Bispeck says. “And when those extra hormones go unused, they can promote cancer cell growth, increasing a women’s risk of breast and endometrial cancers.”
Below Bispeck shares seven foods you should include in a healthy diet.
Kick-start your morning with a cup of coffee. Some research suggests women who drink several cups of black coffee every day are 25% less likely to develop a common type of uterine cancer, as well as other forms of the disease.
“Coffee contains compounds that change the way a woman’s body uses certain hormones, like estrogen and insulin. This change may explain the drink’s anti-cancer benefits,” Bispeck says.
But be warned: It’s not clear if a cup of decaf offers the same benefits. “And, adding sugar or cream takes away coffee’s cancer-fighting ability,” Bispeck says. Plus, sugar and cream add calories.
Lentils are small beans rich in dietary fiber. Fiber may reduce your chances of colorectal cancer. “Fiber helps your gut produce chemicals that stop tumor cells from forming,” Bispeck says.
Fiber also keeps you full longer, helping you maintain a healthy weight. And, it can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Other great fiber sources include beans, whole-wheat pasta, barley and brown rice.
Garlic is loaded with manganese, vitamins B6 and C, and selenium. Some research suggests these nutrients can fend off the cancer cell growth in your intestines. The pungent vegetable, great as a seasoning, also may help lower your risk of stomach, colon and breast cancers.
4. Leafy greens
Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli, are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They’re bursting with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that reduce your risks of many different types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Eating lots of leafy greens also can help you maintain a lean body weight and reduce your chances for heart disease and diabetes.
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a natural chemical found in plants. This chemical is a powerful antioxidant that may lower breast, lung and stomach cancer risks. Other fruits with lycopene include watermelon, pink grapefruit and most fruits with red flesh.
Grapes are sweet and juicy berries that contain the antioxidant resveratrol, which may block the formation of breast, liver, stomach and lymphatic system cancers. A grape’s skin has the most resveratrol, so leave the skin intact. Red and purple grapes have more resveratrol than green grapes.
Onions contain an antioxidant called quercetin. “It may help fight cancer by lowering inflammation in your body,” Bispeck says. Some studies show yellow onions and shallots may be particularly good at protecting you from liver and colon cancers.
Eat a healthy variety
“Including these seven foods to your diet is a great way to help protect your body from cancer,” Bispeck says. But don’t stop there.
A healthy diet also includes:
- A rainbow of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Plant-based proteins
- Limited red meat and avoiding processed meat
- Limited salt
- Limited alcohol
- Little or no sugary beverages or energy-dense foods
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.