Nutrition’s Role in Cancer Prevention
By: Donna Quirk, MBA, RD, LD
LMC Clinical Nutrition Manager
October is Cancer Prevention Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All of us probably know someone who has had cancer. The food choices you make can play an important role in cancer prevention.
There are a wide variety of foods that contain macronutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that may provide protection against developing several different types of cancer. The good news is that not only are they good for cancer prevention, but they are just plain good for you!
So what should you eat to make a difference?
- Apples provide 10% of the Vitamin C and fiber needed daily. Gut bacteria uses an apple’s pectin to protect colon cells. Apples have a variety of phytochemicals. Be sure to eat the whole apple – the peel has at least a third of an apples’ cancer protective compounds.
- Cruciferous Vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, Vitamin C, carotenoids (beta-carotene), and folate. The vegetables in this category provide protection against cancers of the colon, esophagus, mouth, and stomach. Cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, brussels sprouts, rapini, green cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens.
- Blueberries and Cranberries are antioxidant “powerhouses” due to their rich amount of phytochemicals such as flavanols, anthocyanins, catechins, resveratrol, and ellagic acid.
- Dry Beans, Split Peas, and Lentils provide 20% of our daily fiber requirements and 10% of our daily protein needs. They are also an excellent source of folate. Folate may help reduce pancreatic cancer and fiber may help reduce colon cancer. Other phytochemicals in beans, peas, and lentils help reduce the effects of inflammation and, therefore, may decrease cancer risk but the research is ongoing.
- Whole Grains such as wheat, oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa, and corn also provide fiber, selenium, and other anti-oxidants.
So, how do you put it all together? Ideally, start planning your meals and eating based on the “My Plate” recommendations from the USDA or the “Healthy Eating Plate” from the Harvard School of Public Health. Both recommend filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits and a quarter of your plate with whole grains.
And, finally, researchers believe that it is how nutrients work together in all the foods we eat that really makes a difference. So, enjoy a wide variety of whole foods – they are your best cancer defense.