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Superfoods that help prevent cancer

Last updated on: December 5, 2012 11:17 IST

Superfoods that help prevent cancer

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Preeti Desai

There are several colourful fruit and vegetables that are linked to prevention of the dreaded disease. Our in-house nutritionist Preeti Desai lists out.

Can food help prevent diseases such as cancer?

Research states that more than 50 per cent of all cancers are linked to your daily lifestyle choices such as diet, smoking and exercise.

In fact, thousands of studies on lifestyle conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research point out strong cancer prevention links to primarily plant foods like broccoli, berries and garlic.

Do note, however, that while many colourful fruits and vegetables help fight heart disease, diabetes and cancer, no one food can stop the disease in its tracks.

The link between antioxidants and cancer

Studies have found that individuals who eat meals that are rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of cancer; in other words, natural plant foods rich in antioxidants help fight the disease.

Antioxidants help protect cells from harmful compounds found in food and the environment, and also help prevent cell damage and mutations.

Folate-containing foods protect against pancreatic cancer.

Foods rich in carotenoids help protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and lung.

Foods rich in beta-carotene help protect against esophageal cancer; lycopene and selenium-containing foods help protect against prostate cancer; Vitamin C-containing foods also protect against esophageal cancer.

So opt for plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat or fish in your diet.

In the following pages, we bring you the superfoods that can help prevent cancer.

Sulphur-containing compounds in garlic

The allium family of vegetables that includes garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and scallions helps protect against stomach cancer; garlic is also known to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

To reap the health benefits of garlic fully, peel and chop the garlic cloves and let them sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking. The chopping helps release the sulfur-containing compounds that have the most protective effect.


Image: Garlic
Photographs: Courtesy Gud2Eat.com

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Lutein-rich spinach

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Lutein, an antioxidant found in spinach, helps fight cancer and it is also excellent for your eyes.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in spinach that help remove free radicals from your body before they damage it.

Spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables help protect against cancer of the mouth, esophagus and stomach. Its carotenoids help reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, lung, and colorectal cancer. Dark leafy greens also contain folate and fibre, thus making them a nutritional powerhouse as folate helps your body produce new cells and repair DNA.

Opt for raw or lightly-cooked spinach to get most of its lutein content.


Image: Spinach
Photographs: Miansari66/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: DNA

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Antioxidant-rich strawberries

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Antioxidants Vitamin C and ellagic acid found in strawberries help fight cancer. Ellagic acid has anti-cancer properties as it revs up enzymes which destroy cancer-causing compounds, thus slowing the growth of tumours.

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and cranberries all also a rich source of flavonoids, a phytochemical that helps reduce the risk of lung cancer. They can also help prevent cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.


Image: Strawberries
Photographs: Courtesy Gud2Eat.com
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Beta carotene-rich carrots

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Carrots are rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant that helps protect cell membranes from toxin damage and slows the growth of cancer cells.

Vitamins and phytochemicals in carrots help protect against cancers of the mouth, esophagus and stomach. Carrots also help protect against cervical cancer.

Note that cooked carrots provide more antioxidants than raw carrots.


Image: Carrots
Photographs: Kander/Wikimedia Commons
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Glucosinate-rich broccoli

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Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale contain phytochemicals called glucosinolates that help protect against cancers of the mouth, esophagus and stomach.

Broccoli and cruciferous vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamins A, C and E that stimulate the body's immune system.

Broccoli contains a high concentration of sulforaphanes, which are potent anti-cancer agents.


Image: Broccoli
Photographs: David Monniaux/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Broccoli

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Lycopene-rich tomatoes

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The powerful antioxidant lycopene gives tomatoes their red colouring and helps fight prostate cancer by boosting the immune system.

Lycopene may also help reduce the risk of cancers of the breast, lung and endometrium (in the lining of the uterus). It also stops the growth of tumours by interfering with abnormal cell growth.

Note that cooked tomatoes provide more lycopene.


Image: Tomatoes
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Energy-boosting whole grain containing lignans

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Lignans found in whole grains help fight cancer as they act as antioxidants, and saponins in whole grains keep cancer cells from multiplying.

Whole grains are rich in nutrients like B vitamins and fibre, but they also contain phytic acid, a compound found especially in wheat bran, oat, legumes, beans and peas.

Phytic acid inhibits the formation of tumours in the colon and increases apoptosis (death) of mutated or cancerous cells; fibre in whole grains also promotes colon health.

Whole grain foods are energising as they contain protein, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin B1, all nutrients that help boost energy levels. They also contain complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest, thus giving sustained energy for a longer time.

Hence, whole grain foods are beneficial in providing an energising boost to individuals suffering from cancer.


Image: Whole grain foods
Photographs: Courtesy Gud2Eat.com
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