With 1 in 3 cancer-related deaths linked to diet, the food we eat plays a major role in cancer development. Here are a few plant-based foods that have demonstrated anti-cancer properties that can benefit us all.
Filling up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can alter your body’s biochemistry in a way that helps keep potential cancer cell growth at bay.
How does this happen?
Whole plant foods have beneficial effects on four major components of cancer prevention:
1. Antioxidant levels
3. Blood sugar control
Plant foods are brimming with beneficial antioxidants, which help clear up cellular damage that can eventually lead to cancer development. They contain phytonutrients, such as the flavonoids, which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Plant foods are also rich sources of antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin E. Some of my favorite antioxidant-packed foods include berries, kale, broccoli, green tea, chili peppers, and beans.
A whole food, plant-based diet can also help lower inflammation in the body. This is important because inflammation can increase cancer risk, and cancer can also increase inflammation – they work hand in hand.
Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids, from foods like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and salmon, can help lower inflammation levels. Turmeric, an Indian cooking spice, is also widely studied for it’s anti-inflammatory properties. (Try it in curry or steeped in hot water like tea!)
BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
Another important component of cancer prevention is blood sugar control. Our bodies thrive on carbohydrates but it’s important to focus on the healthy, complex (slowly digested) variety.
Examples of healthy carbs are whole grains (like quinoa and brown rice), beans, and sweet potatoes. Unlike refined white carbs and sugar, these healthy carbs are rich sources of fiber, which helps us feel full and keeps blood sugar levels from spiking too quickly.
Our bodies need a fully powered immune system to fend off diseases, and our immune cells play an intimate role in both the development and prevention of cancer. You can help give your immune cells a boost with fermented foods, which contain beneficial probiotics, and include tempeh, miso, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Additional plant foods, like mushrooms, ginger, oats, and nutritional yeast may also be beneficial due to their immune-boosting beta-glucan content.
Through a better understanding of the way plant-based foods can be protective of our bodies, we can give ourselves the best shot at living life to its fullest.
Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN is a Boulder, CO-based private practice dietitian creating delicious recipes and promoting a world where we all truly love nourishing whole foods. Inspired by her past experiences working in an integrative cancer center, Steph shares with her clients a loving environment that focuses on mindful eating, holistic wellness, and cancer nutrition. Visit The Grateful Grazer.