10 cancer-fighting foods for better health

Nutrient-packed options that you need to know about

10 cancer-fighting foods for better health

Today we are beginning to understand that cancer is a highly complex condition with many facets and likely causes. Every case is very different and treatment plans are highly personalised to reflect this. But the food we eat has a vital part to play.

Mike Wakeman is a pharmacist with a Masters in Pharmaceutical Medicine, Nutritional Science and Clinical Oncology. He says: “If you are seeking to prevent cancer, consider diet as an aid to reduce risk. And if you have cancer, use it as a means to help you live with the condition longer and move forward in a healthy future. If my work with cancer survivors has taught me one thing, it is that people often see food as a causative enemy rather than a supporting friend.”

Mike suggests that we see our 5-a-day as a minimum requirement and points out that in other countries such as Japan and Australia, recommendations for fruit and veg intake are much higher. “Consider the amount of processed food you are eating,” he says. “Much of the attention around processed food is focussed on the amount of sugar in it, but many types also contain high amounts of fats added to enhance the mouth feel, and these are often in the form of omega-6 fats, which upset the balance of beneficial omega-3s in our diet.”

Katherine Kimber, registered dietitian, says, “Most people in the UK are only consuming 4 out of the recommended 5-a-day. There is a link between low intakes of both fruit and vegetables and stomach and colon cancers, so the initial priority would be to reach this target, This can be achieved by eating 2-3 portions of fruit and 2-3 portions of vegetables a day which can be fresh, frozen or canned in water. Salt-preserved vegetables should be reduced to a minimum due to strong links with an increased risk of stomach cancer.”

  • 1. Tomatoes

    “Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid, which has been found to have anticancer properties,” says Emma Brown, nutritionist at Nutracheck. “In fact, fruit and vegetable consumption in general, has been associated with a decreased risk of various cancers including mouth, throat and lung. This is because they contain various phytochemicals which can fight against free radicals – particles which can damage cells, which may lead to the formation of cancer. Tomato-based sauces and ketchup are amongst the top sources of lycopene in our diet – but try to stock up on fresh toms for the most benefit!”

  • 2. Garlic

    Emma recommends we eat more garlic. “Several studies have found an association between higher garlic intakes and a reduced risk of various cancers including pancreas, breast, stomach and colon. These studies show a strong association, but cause and effect can’t be established – so more clinical trials are needed to determine this. Clinical trials are more difficult to carry out ethically, but some have been completed with promising results. One study in which more than 5,000 Chinese men and women were supplemented with a garlic extract or placebo for 5 years, found that those taking the garlic extract had reduced incidences of stomach cancer by more than 50% compared to those taking the placebo.”

  • 3. Fibre

    High fibre foods, such as wholegrains, have been shown to have a protective effect against various types of cancers in studies. Emma says, “Fibre helps to create bulk in our digestive system, which assists waste to move through faster, and to keep our guts healthy. As well as this, butyrate is produced when bacteria in our colon breaks down fibre, and research has found butyrate may inhibit tumour growth.”

  • 4. Broccoli

    Broccoli is not only a good source of carotenoids and fibre, which have been flagged as having potential anti-cancer effects, but it boasts other powerful components. Emma says, “When these components (known as glucosinolates) are broken down when we eat broccoli, biologically active compounds are formed. Animal and lab studies have shown that they can inhibit the growth of cancerous tumours. It’s believed these compounds may have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, as well as possibly helping to protect against DNA damage – all of which can be associated with the development of cancer.”

  • 5. Turmeric

    Turmeric contains curcumin, which could have a positive effect on reducing cancer cells. “One 2017 study, in which proteins associated with the formation of breast cancer were treated with curcumin in a lab environment, found that curcumin reduced levels of the proteins. This highlights a potential use of turmeric in the treatment of some cancers – but more trials are needed,”  says Emma.

  • 6. Produce

    Although organic produce is more expensive, it has soared in popularity in recent years, following media reports claiming that organic foods are more nutritious, and that artificial fertilisers and pesticides may increase our risk of cancer and other diseases. Dietitian Katherine Kimber says, “Unfortunately, there is no strong evidence to support the idea that organic is able to protect us against cancer, versus conventionally grown produce. Research indicates that when it comes to eating well to prevent cancer whether it is fresh, frozen, canned or organic, all types of produce are good for you. Also, most countries, including the UK have regulations regarding pesticides and fertilisers allowed in foods to ensure they are within safe limits.”

  • 7. Supplements

    “For most people, consuming the right food and drink is more likely to protect against cancer than dietary supplements,” says Katherine. “High dose supplements are not recommended for cancer as indicated by high-quality trials. In fact, some studies have shown potential for unexpected adverse effects. For example, there is strong evidence that high dose betacarotene supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer in some people.”

  • 8. Cruciferous veg

    Remember that specific recommendations vary between countries and also individuals. “If you are a survivor or have a family history of a specific cancer, or don’t like certain food types, then look at increasing levels of specific compounds – such as lycopene for prostate cancer – with supplements as a part of your regieme but use diet as the primary source of these compounds – it’s cheaper and healthier,” says Mike Wakeman. “Eat more cruciferous vegetables. Their effects on controlling different types of cancer cells is overwhelming but as the beneficial compounds aren’t well absorbed by the body, we do need frequent exposure to low doses so that our levels remain better ‘topped up.’ “

  • 9. Longevity

    Mike thinks that cancer is probably an inevitable fact of our longevity. “Our world is so different from that of our ancestors and as the causes of cancer are so complex,  we are only now beginning to get the briefest glimpse of the possible causes. Adhering to a healthy lifestyle, of which a healthy diet forms a part, can help to reduce, not eradicate, risk and this is some we can, and should, positively manage,” he says.

  • 10. Food diary

    Katherine Kimber says, “Consider your diet, perhaps keeping a short food diary over the next 2 or 3 days. Then compare it with the World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations for cancer preventions (wcrf-uk.org/uk/ preventing-cancer/cancer-preventionrecommendations). Set your priorities, and start by making small, but incremental changes. Whether this is reducing, or cutting out alcohol, reducing your intake of red meat or moving more, start today and don’t stop!”

Our Experts

Mike Wakeman is a pharmacist and holds a Masters in Pharmaceutical Medicine, Nutritional Science and Clinical Oncology. He works with natures-way.com.

Emma Brown is the in-house nutritionist at Nutracheck, the UK’s leading calorie-counting app. nutracheck.co.uk

Katherine Kimber is a registered dietitian with years of experience in the NHS and the private sector. nudenutritionrd.com

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