Do anti-cancer superfoods really work? The short answer to this question is, yes, they really do. While studies are ongoing, and in many cases experts still don’t know exactly how these superfoods work, there’s strong evidence that certain fruits and vegetables rich in plant-based nutrients can both prevent tumors from starting and halt their growth. Here, the top foods to work into the family diet if you’d like to cut cancer risk or help those with cancer recover
Blueberries, Acai Berries, Raspberries, and Cranberries
The rich, dark colors of blueberries, Brazilian acai berries, raspberries and cranberries come from phytochemicals that protect against numerous types of cancer. The anti-cancer properties of all these berries are so strong that researchers have developing concentrated supplements and other products such as purees and concentrates.
One of the first plant-based chemicals to be studied for its anti-cancer properties, catechins — the chemicals in green tea — have been known for some time to prevent and reduce recurrence of breast and other cancers. With this particular chemical, experts even know why: a chemical known as EGCG inhibits breast tumor growth, a University of Mississippi study shows. Just two cups a day is enough to do the trick.
Numerous studies over the years have documented the anti-cancer properties of garlic. The strongest evidence so far has focused on digestive cancers, but garlic appears to protect against all types of cancer, including breast and prostate. According to the National Cancer Institute, an analysis of seven different large-scale population studies showed that the more raw and cooked garlic a person consumed, the lower his risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. Scientists have isolated two active ingredients in garlic, allicin and allyl sulfur, and demonstrated that they prevent and fight cancer in both animals and humans. Add crushed, fresh garlic to your meals whenever possible; some experts also recommend waiting 15 minutes between peeling and chopping the garlic to get the full effects of the active compounds.
Harvard researcher Edward Giovannucci reviewed 72 different studies published by the National Cancer Institute, and concluded that lycopene, the active chemical in tomatoes, lowered the risk of many different cancers, particularly prostate, breast, lung and colon cancer. The good news: cooking tomatoes seems to enhance the effects of lycopene, qualifying tomato-based spaghetti sauce as a nutritional powerhouse. Bring on the pasta!
The hype about red wine centers on an antioxidant called resveratrol that’s present in grapes and grape juice, but is most concentrated in red wine. Most recently, a University of Nebraska study published in Cancer Prevention Research demonstrated that resveratrol suppresses the abnormal cell growth that leads to most types of breast cancer. Breast cancer is fueled by estrogen, and resveratrol acts to block the action of the estrogen, preventing it from feeding tumor growth. Previously, research conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham showed that mice fed a diet enriched with resveratrol had an 87 percent reduction in their risk of developing prostate tumors of the most dangerous kind.
The active ingredient in soy is genistein, which is a phytoestrogen that protects against hormone-dependent cancers. It’s also a powerful inhibitor of several proteins that are implicated in the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. To get the anti-cancer benefits of soy, you need to consume about 50 grams per day of the whole food, such as raw fresh soybeans, known as edamame, dry roasted soybeans, or tofu. The research to date shows that supplements containing isoflavones don’t work with the same action as soybeans themselves and in fact can be bad for you rather than good.
The orange-yellow spice turmeric, best known for its role in Indian curries and other Asian dishes, fights cancer because of an active ingredient, curcumin, that’s a powerful antioxidant. Researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus reviewed numerous animal studies and concluded that curcumin demonstrated anti-cancer effects at virtually all stages of tumor development. Researchers in France and Britain also have been studying curcumin’s action in the laboratory and concluded that it prevents and slows tumor cell growth. The great news about turmeric is how easy it is to work into the diet, because you don’t need very much. Add a teaspoon of the spice to soups, salad dressings, meat and pasta dishes and you’ll reap the preventative effects.
None of this is to say that an anti-cancer diet or nutritional supplements should be used in place of doctor-recommended treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. The experts in this field strongly recommend that those who’ve already been diagnosed with cancer use anti-cancer nutrients to bolster traditional medical cancer treatment, not to replace it.