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Healing Foods with Anti-Cancer Properties


Krystine T. Nguyen, NMD, RD

Did you know that at any given moment, environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed, resulting in millions of our cells undergoing some form of DNA damage that favor cancer development? The statistics from the National Cancer Institute reports that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer at some point in their lives. According to the 2013 statistics from the American Cancer Society, it is projected that 1,660,290 new cancer cases will be diagnosed, and estimated that about 1,600 people per day are expected to die of cancer this year, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths in the US.[1] While the statistics are alarming, there are proactive approaches that you can take to avoid becoming a statistic. The World Cancer Research Fund estimated that one-third of all cancers are due to poor nutrition, physical inactivity and excess weight, which could be prevented.[2] As you can see, dietary choices and physical activity play significant roles in cancer prevention.

vegetables for cancer dietWhat you eat can influence the nutrition your cells receive. Therefore, food variety and types of foods you consume can significantly lower your risk of getting cancer.[3],[4] Over 200 studies have documented that people are less likely to get cancer when their diets are composed of colorful fruits and vegetables. Foods that are rich in color are often high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are "electron donors" that protect cells from the damage caused by unstable free radicals known as "electron thieves" that steal the electrons in a cell membrane to destabilize that tissue. Free radical damage can lead to cancer.[5] Dr. William Li, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, proposes a new way to defeat cancer by consuming foods that have anti-angiogenic effect on cancer cells.[6] Angiogenesis refers to a process through which the body creates new blood vessels under specific conditions as part of the healing process for an injury. However, when this natural system of checks and balances to regulate the growth of blood vessels malfunctions, it opens the door for cancer cells to take over and use our blood vessels to supply the cancer cells with nutrients for their growth and survival at our own bodies' detriment.

It has been reported by the American Institute for Cancer Research and Dr. William Li's research findings that certain fruits, vegetables and spices have properties that can considerably prevent cancers and reduce the growth of cancers.

cruciferousCruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower - contain indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane, which have shown to protect DNA, inhibit tumor formation, and enhance detoxification of toxins in the body. When these vegetables are slightly cooked, the anti-cancer effect of sulforaphane is more potent. Be sure to incorporate steamed cruciferous vegetables into your meals daily.

berriesColorful berries: blue berries, black berries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries and dark cherries - contain bioflavonoids – anthocyanidins, and ellagic acid, which have been shown to have anti-angiogenic effect on tumors. They also cause cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis), provide immune enhancement, increase antioxidant status, and enhance detoxification. These colorful berries make a wonderful fruit dessert, so be sure to incorporate them in your diet daily.

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 10.26.59 AMPomegranate: contains polyphenol antioxidants, flavonoids - ellagic acid, which studies have shown to have anti-angiogenic effect on cancer cells along with suppressing the proliferation of cancer cells in breast, prostate, colon, bladder and pancreas. Think about adding pomegranate to your salad, or juicing it to enjoy the health benefits of this powerful super-food.

garlic-onionsGarlic and onions: contain allicin, S-allyl cysteine, selenium, flavonoids (quercetin), which have shown to block formation of cancer-causing agents, prevent tumor growth, and provide anti-angiogenic effect on cancer cells.[7],[8] These foods also provide immune enhancement and antioxidant function. Garlic and onions enhance the flavor of any dish. Ideally, eat them raw or can lightly sautéed to prevent the heat from destroying their anti-cancer properties.

mushroomsMushrooms: Maitake, Rei-shi, Shiitake, Agaricus brasiliensis mushrooms are potent anti-cancer foods. They contain beta-glucan, which stimulates the immune system and even lowers blood pressure. Researchers in Australia reported that women who ate 10 grams of fresh mushrooms or 4 grams of dried mushrooms daily decreased their risk of breast cancer by 64% and 47% respectively compared to those who ate no mushrooms. Mushrooms are versatile ingredients, you can add them to soup, or sauté them to make a tasty side dish.

gingerSpices: turmeric, rosemary, ginger - contain carnosol, curcumin, flavones, which have shown to inhibit tumor formation, enhance the immune system and assist with detoxification, provide antioxidant function, anti-inflammatory, apoptosis and anti-angiogenesis effect on cancer cells (turmeric), and anti-nausea (ginger). Add these spices regularly to your favorite dishes for the flavor and the health benefits.

green-teaGreen tea: contains polyphenols (EGCG- epigallocatechin-3-gallate) with powerful antioxidant function along with anti-angiogenesis effect on cancer cells, which have shown to interfere with the signaling for tumor growth, inhibit tumor formation, and prevent genetic damage and cancer formation. Green tea makes a refreshing beverage, so drink it daily for health benefit. Celestial Seasons green tea contains the highest amount of EGCG, whereas decaffeinated contains no EGCG.

The basic guidelines for cancer prevention are to eat a whole-foods diet and a variety of colorful foods with emphasis on plant-based diet, and to eliminate refined, processed and packaged foods. Buy organic foods if affordable. Consume sufficient calories to maintain healthy weight, and engage in regular physical activities.