You may know some cancer-preventive antioxidants, such as lycopene, by name—but don’t overlook the foods that naturally contain these anticancer nutrients. “Although we must single out specific, promising plant compounds and try to figure out how they work individually to protect us from cancer and other diseases, I absolutely believe the benefits of eating the whole plant are greater than the sum of the effects of its parts,” says Jed Fahey, ScD, director of Johns Hopkins University's Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory. What’s more, antioxidants from different plant foods work together to promote health. Fill your plate daily with a mix of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods and spices whether you’re trying to keep cancer at bay or prevent a recurrence, says Kim Dalzell, PhD, RD, of challengecancer.com. Here are top menu must-haves.
Small but mighty, berries are rich in cancer-preventive antioxidants, including anthocyanins. “Berry antioxidants seem to work best in early stages of cancer development to slow growth of precancerous cells and trigger abnormal cells to die,” says professor Gary Stoner, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center.
Protection power: Animal studies and preliminary human studies suggest berries (especially black raspberries) may help prevent cancer in the mouth, esophagus, and colon.
Eat: 1 cup fresh or frozen berries or 2 tablespoons freeze-dried whole berry powder mixed into beverages, yogurt, and other foods daily
Antioxidants called catechins provide much of green tea’s anticancer kick. Tea catechins help
destroy cancer cells and ramp up the body’s own protective-antioxidant production, says food scientist Joshua Lambert, PhD, of Penn State University.
Protection power: Test tube and animal studies suggest green-tea catechins could help protect against many cancer types, including lung, colon, and skin cancer, Lambert says. A small study in Italy found tea catechins prevented prostate cancer development in men with precancerous cells.
Drink: 8 ounces at least four times a day. Consult a medical expert before using a supplement because high doses could harm your liver.
This yellow spice contains curcumin, an antioxidant master of squelching inflammation. Inflammation plays a major role in all cancer development, says Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, professor of cancer medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Protection power: Not only could curcumin help prevent an array of cancers, studies suggest it may also help stabilize some of the toughest cancers, including pancreatic cancer and metastatic breast cancer. Aggarwal says curcumin may even enhance traditional cancer therapies while inhibiting their toxic side effects.
Eat: 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric daily (or a 500 mg curcumin supplement). The FDA analyzed curcumin extensively and found it nontoxic even at very high doses, Aggarwal says.
Ma’aluba (Chicken with Vegetables and Rice)
Well-researched lycopene, a red-pigment antioxidant in tomatoes, has anticancer benefits, but that’s only one of tomatoes’ protective components. “Lycopene slightly reduces cancer growth, whereas the whole tomato greatly reduces tumor growth,” says professor John Erdman Jr., PhD, of University of Illinois.
Protection power: Erdman says there’s strongest evidence for tomatoes protecting against prostate cancer—even delaying preexisting prostate cancer growth in men. Emerging research suggests tomatoes might protect against skin cancer, too.
Eat: As few as three tomato servings a week may provide prostate cancer protection. The body benefits most from cooked or processed ripe tomatoes.
For cancer prevention, any color of grape will do—but eat the skin, too, which is high in resveratrol. This antioxidant helps block tumor development in all three of its stages.
Protection power: In animal studies, resveratrol has prevented many types of cancer, including lung, prostate, and ovarian, says Robert Sclafani, PhD, cancer cell biology program director at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Eat: Two servings (3/4 cup each) of grapes a day. Sclafani suggests mixing raisins with peanuts, both of which are also rich in resveratrol.
Carrot Breakfast Muffins with Raisins (raisins are also high in resveratrol)
Although mature broccoli is a well-known cancer-fighting food, three-day-old broccoli sprouts pack at least 20 times more antioxidant sulforaphane as the grown-up version, says Fahey, who discovered the sprouts’ anticancer activity. Sulforaphane cranks up your body’s production of cancer-protective enzymes, which can also kill Helicobacter pylori, the ulcer-causing bacteria linked to stomach cancer.
Protection power: Preliminary studies suggest broccoli sprouts may help protect against liver, prostate, bladder, and breast cancer. Larger human studies are underway and look promising, Fahey says.
Eat: Add an ounce (1/2 cup) of broccoli sprouts to salads and sandwiches a few times a week, advises Fahey. Grow sprouts indoors or buy them at the market. If you can't find them, at least add more broccoli and other brassicas to your diet.