We’ve all heard the phrase "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." But what about "Five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day keeps the cancer away?" Okay, it doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Nonetheless, studies show that increasing your intake of plant-based nutrients – especially those found in so-called "super foods" – not only lowers your risk of developing cancer, but also joins in the battle if you’re already fighting it.
If the term "super foods" conjures a vision of grapes in capes, that's not too far off. Study after study touts the cancer-fighting ability of everything from beans to berries to broccoli. So, what are their super powers? Antioxidants, fiber, and weight loss – three keys to a nutritional fight against cancer.
The X-Factor: Antioxidants
This much heralded cancer crusher neutralizes the chaos-causing molecules known as free radicals, which corrupt healthy cells by stealing their electrons. Berries, apples (with the peel), avocados, artichokes, and spinach are all excellent sources of this super substance.
Ever since the USDA tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable, lycopene has been in the spotlight – and deservedly so. In addition to the common condiment, this powerful antioxidant is found in abundance in cooked tomatoes. Think pasta sauces and tomato based soups. But be careful of high sugar content in tomato sauces and condiments, too much sugar doesn’t do the body any good.
Building a Better Beta
Beta Carotene is another powerful antioxidant. You can find it in pretty much any fruit or vegetable that is orange – think sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, and apricots. This nutrient is noteworthy because unlike vitamin C, levels of beta carotene can increase when the food is cooked. Since you don’t have to eat foods containing beta-carotene raw to get the benefits, your cooking options skyrocket like Superman.
What some super foods lack in nutrients, they make up for with other secret weapons. Celery, for instance, is comparatively low on the nutrition scale but high in fiber, which speeds digestion and decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.
Some other foods that are high in fiber, and still filled with lots of other cancer-preventing nutrients, are spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. Leafy greens are the Hulk of super foods; they muscle their way through your system – fighting free radicals and other health villains along the way.
Just the Flax, Ma'am
Flaxseed delivers a one-two punch: it's an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid, used by cells to fight inflammation; and it helps inhibit the growth of tumors. You can add flax seed to your salad to give it a little crunch, or sprinkle some in to your morning meal whether it’s granola or a bowl of fruit. There are also some yummy recipes out there for muffins that include a hearty helping of flaxseed, and they’re easy to find with a quick search.
Chew on This
Chewing food longer releases extra enzymes that activate cancer-fighting molecules embedded deep in leafy greens and other foods. Not only that, but well-chewed food makes it easier for your intestines to absorb all the important nutrients described above.
Evidence strongly suggests that it’s the synergy of all these superfoods working together in your overall diet that offers the strongest shield against cancer. So just like superheroes defeat more villains as a team, super foods are stronger when they are working together.
The American Institute for Cancer Research offers a fresh way of looking at what you and your family eats every day to not only prevent a disease like cancer, but improve overall health. It’s simple: fill your plate up with 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, and whole grains or beans.
As with everything treatment-related, check with your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet. But for the most part, unleashing the power of produce on your diet may just be the boost your body needs to fight cancer and live a longer, stronger life.