As a recipe developer, health coach and owner of an online culinary nutrition program, I dedicate a lot of time to researching and playing in my laboratory—or as most folks call it: the kitchen.
Creating delicious and healthy recipes is my joy. Food gives me strength and empowers me, especially because I’m a breast cancer survivor. Food is one of the most powerful tools I have to stay healthy.
In fact, researchers estimate that 30% to 40% of all cancers could be prevented by changing lifestyle and diet habits alone. A diet filled with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains and small portions of lean, organic protein can lower cancer risk. In contrast, diets high in foods like processed meats, sugar and refined carbs are associated with higher risk.
While no one food can prevent cancer, many healthy foods contain powerful phytochemicals known to have cancer-fighting powers. Here are five that I use in my kitchen regularly that I’m excited to share with you.
5 Foods for Cancer Prevention
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (or Brassicas) are a class of plants that contain a variety of nutrients that may protect against cancer. These include carotenoids, folate, and glucosinolates, which the body turns into indoles. One special indole called diindolylmethane (DIM) has been shown to help metabolize estrogen in the body, and estrogen plays a role in many cancers, such as breast cancer. In other words, eat your broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, arugula and watercress.
Tip: Next time you’re making a smoothie, add a big handful of kale. Making an omelette? Add baby kale leaves.
Mushrooms are truly magical—they may even be the answer to the world’s plastic problem. And adding shitake, maitake, oyster, crimini, or even the very basic button mushroom could help strengthen your body’s cancer-fighting abilities. Reishi mushrooms also contain special compounds called beta-glucans said to fight cancer cells in multiple ways.
Tip: Powdered, medicinal mushroom formulations are great to add to smoothies, soups and dressings. Add fresh, organic mushrooms to soups, sautés and omelettes.
Deeply colored plants hold a tremendous amount of antioxidant power; usually, the more intense the pigment, the higher the antioxidants. So it’s no surprise that the ruby red beet contains a unique red indole called betalain and that there is growing evidence that beets are an exceptional source of cancer-fighting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Tip: Trader Joe’s has pre-cooked beets in the refrigerated produce section. You can keep these in the fridge and add them to a salad, slice them for sandwiches, or blend them into a smoothie.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 74% of the population is deficient in iodine, and one of the best ways to bring more of the nutrient into our lives is through sea vegetables. Research shows that there is an association between thyroid disorders and breast cancer, and studies are looking at whether that relationship may be related to iodine and whether iodine has anti-carcinogenic properties.
Tip: Look for kelp granules in a shaker. Leave it next to your salt and pepper shakers, and add the flakes to all of your savory dishes.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and its main active compound, curcumin, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows it can also kill tumor cells. Turmeric root is readily available in the produce section of most grocery stores. It’s a root that looks similar to its cousin ginger, but is smaller and not as knobby. Just beneath the unassuming beige skin, you’ll find the most glorious, vibrant orange flesh.
Tip: Fresh is best: Keep fresh turmeric root in your freezer so that you’ll always have it on hand to add to smoothies, fresh juice, or to grate into your recipes. It’s also best to consume turmeric in combination with black pepper as it may allow your body to absorb it more effectively.