Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Foods that have cancer-fighting properties

Eating a well-balanced diet can help you ward off illness and keep you nourished. Research has shown that the way different food compounds work together in the body may reduce cancer risk. So the question is, what foods help prevent cancer?

The following is a list of foods that have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. While some are well-known super foods, others may surprise you. You won’t find a burger or fries on this list – when it comes to cancer prevention, clean eating prevails:

  • Turmeric – This Asian spice contains curcumin, which is an antioxidant that has been shown to have anti-cancer effects. Proponents of turmeric believe it can prevent and slow the growth of esophageal, mouth, intestinal, stomach and breast tumors.
  • Garlic – According to the National Cancer Institute, studies show an association between populations who eat high amounts of raw and cooked garlic and a lower risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract such as cancer of the stomach, colon, esophagus and pancreas.
  • Black pepper – Black pepper contains the antioxidant piperine, making it a smart choice over table salt when seasoning food. A study conducted at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center showed that black pepper, with turmeric, inhibited growth of cancerous stem cells in breast tumors.
  • Cayenne pepper – Studies have shown that cayenne pepper, or more specifically capsaicin, can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells, and may also have the ability to destroy them, according to a study done at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine.
  • Oregano - Oregano contains carvacrol, a molecule that may help offset the spread of cancer cells by working as a natural disinfectant. Carvacrol is also present in marjoram, mint, thyme, basil and parsley.
  • Cruciferous vegetables – This family of vegetables includes broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower and cabbage. These greens contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which may help protect cells from DNA damage and inactivate carcinogens. Studies show they are particularly helpful in preventing cancers of the stomach, mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus.
  • Berries – Strawberries and blueberries contain antioxidants, which protect the body from cell damage that can lead to cancers of the skin, bladder, lung, breast and esophagus.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are red because they contain an antioxidant called lycopene. Studies have shown that lycopene may help fight prostate cancer. Unlike other foods that are best eaten raw, eating cooked tomatoes actually increases their anti-cancer effects.
  • Watermelon – Like tomatoes, this seasonal fruit contains lycopene. It also contains about 80 percent of your daily vitamin C and 30 percent of your daily vitamin A.
  • Whole grains –Unprocessed whole grains contain natural plant compounds which help prevent cell damage. Whole grains only contain these natural compounds when they remain unprocessed, so make sure to read labels carefully.  Some examples of whole grains include steel-cut oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat couscous.
  • Green Tea – Green tea contains polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. Studies show that the major polyphenol in green tea, EGCG, may reduce breast cancer and prostate cancer. Although these studies have been promising, more research is underway to fully understand the impact green tea has on cancer prevention.

Since most of these cancer-fighting foods are produce, remember to consider buying organic to avoid your exposure to pesticides. The “dirty dozen” includes fruits and vegetables that are especially important to buy organic, since they contain more pesticides per serving than other types of produce:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Domestic blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Imported grapes
  • Lettuce

Learn more about oncology nutrition.