CUTTING your risk of cancer could come down to what you put on your weekly shopping list, according to the Irish Cancer Society and other leading bodies.
Cutting down on foods high in sugar, salt and calories and loading up instead on beneficial plant-based foods has been shown to significantly reduce your chances of getting the disease and even to improve your chances of survival from it.
One recent study showed that a Mediterranean-style diet — rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil and whole grains but low in red and processed meat — cuts the risk of breast cancer returning.
And the Irish Cancer society says up to 30% of cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes — including diet and exercise — alone.
However, there are other specific foods that can help you to you fire up your cancer-fighting potential.
Here, we review the evidence for some of the top foods.
A powerful substance called apigenin, found in parsley, was shown by University of Missouri scientists to halt the growth of cancer cells.
When lab animals with breast cancer were given doses of apigenin, it also boosted their resistance to developing cancerous tumours.
Recently, parsley’s reputation was boosted further when scientists reported in the Journal of Natural Products that it could stave off cancer when consumed along with dill.
Both herbs provide the chemical glaziovianin A, another tumour-buster.
The scientists who carried out the latest research hope that harvesting the beneficial chemical from parsley crops might help to create a new cancer-fighting medicine.
How much: Add a teaspoon of chopped parsley to your dishes three times a week. Sprinkle it on salads or even add to a green smoothie.
Shown in previous research to combat disease-causing free-radicals that are linked to cancer, dill really came into its own this week when a team of Russian scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology showed how compounds extracted from dill (and parsley) garden seeds could fight cancer.
According to Professor Alexander Kiselev, the lead researcher, dill seeds could potentially be used to produce a cancer treatment that would be an alternative to conventional treatments like chemotherapy.
How much: Sprinkle a teaspoon of chopped aromatic dill leaves on top of cooked vegetables, salads and fish three times a week.
An alternative is to use dill seeds, which have a flavour similar to caraway seeds, to add flavour to your salads or soups.
This vibrant yellow spice, widely used in Indian cuisine, contains an antioxidant called curcumin which was shown in a study last year to slow the activity of the human papilloma virus, which causes oral and cervical cancers.
It’s not a cure, but Alok Mishra of Emory University showed how curcumin appears to quell its activity.
Other researchers have described how the same ingredient suppresses the spread of cells that lead to head and neck cancer and helps to reduce levels of damaging inflammatory cytokines (also linked to cancer) in a person’s saliva.
How much: A generous pinch of turmeric four times a week added to soups, roasts, poultry, beans and vegetables. Turmeric tea is another option. Drink 3-4 cups daily.
Adding hot chillis to your food can trigger cancer cells to commit suicide, according a trial at Nottingham University.
Researchers there showed how capsaicin, a key ingredient of peppers, causes cancer cell death by attacking mitochondria — the cells’ energy-makers.
It seemed particular effective for lung and pancreatic cancers. More good news for lovers of spicy-food came last year when University of California experts linked chilli peppers to a reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer.
When mice that were genetically susceptible to gut tumours were given the compound, they had fewer tumours and a lifespan extended by 30% cent.
How much: Add sliced chilli to food three or four times a week.
The humble horseradish contains an abundance of cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates providing approximately 10 times the amount found in broccoli — and a recent University of Illinois study showed how the garden plant could help detoxify and eliminate cancer-causing free-radicals from the body.
A few years ago, trials at the Mount Vernon Hospital, west London, discovered that molecules derived from the horse- radish could help to transform plant hormones into cancer-beating agents.
How much: All you need is a daily teaspoon of the strong-flavoured condiment to get the benefit.
A bowlful of berries for breakfast could be a good move.
They not only contain powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants, but contain other substances that may help keep cancers from growing or spreading.
What’s more, medical experts suggest that eating wild berries while undergoing chemotherapy could make the treatment more effective.
Research by King’s College Hospital and the University of Southampton discovered that taking an extract of the American chokeberry boosted the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs used for pancreatic cancer, killing off cancer cells more quickly.
How much: Aim for one serving of mixed berries, around 80g, four times a week.
Rich in beneficial polyphenol substances called catechins, green tea has powerful disease-fighting benefits and, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research “has been shown to slow, or completely prevent, cancer development in colon, liver, breast and prostate cells”.
Its most potent and studied catchin, epigallocatechin gallate, was shown by a University of Strathclyde team to make 40% of human skin cancer tumours disappear.
More research is needed, but drinking green tea daily could pay dividends.
How much: Green tea is lower in caffeine that regular tea and coffee and so most people an tolerate 3-5 cups daily.
Renowned as being the best source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant substance that not only gives tomatoes their red hue but protects against DNA and cell damage.
Indeed, men who consume more than 10 portions of tomatoes a week — as fresh tomatoes, tomato juice or even baked beans — could cut their risk of prostate cancer by about one fifth according to researchers at Bristol University.
Another study, published in Nutrition and Cancer, showed how high intakes of lycopene helped to stop endometrial cancer cell growth.
How much: Have 100ml juice, one tablespoon of paste or passata or three fresh tomato four times a week. If you really don’t like the taste of tomatoes, then try a lycopene supplement.
Rich in beneficial plant chemicals, garlic has been shown to thwart the formation of carcinogens that form in the stomach when high levels of nitrates, a common food preservative, are consumed.
It’s one of the reasons why participants in the Iowa Women’s Health Study who ate the most garlic had a 50% lower risk of colon cancers than garlic-avoiders.
Eating raw garlic twice a week could potentially halve the risk of developing lung cancer, according to another study in the journal Cancer.
How much: Try to consume the equivalent of at least two cloves a week in your cooking. Garlic capsules are an option and onions have some of the beneficial compounds, so add them to your cooking.
Food scientists at Texas A&M University found that plums have antioxidant levels to rival blueberries and they may help to lower the risk for colon cancer in their dried form as prunes.
Their trials showed how prune consumption promotes healthy gut bacteria in the colon.
“While additional research is needed, the results from this study are exciting because they suggest that eating dried plums may be a viable nutrition strategy to help prevent colorectal cancer,” said Nancy Turner, research professor in the department of Nutrition and Food Science.
How much: Eat three or four prunes two to three times.
This fruit, a major source of antioxidants, gets its characteristic colour from lycopene, the same cancer-fighting compound found in tomatoes.
While the amount of the antioxidant in a watermelon fluctuates according to growing conditions, US government findings reported in the Agricultural Research journal, suggested watermelon contains more lycopene than tomatoes.
Watermelon juice is now widely available and, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research: “In one human study, lycopene from raw watermelon juice was absorbed as well as the lycopene from heat-treated tomato juice.”
How much: You can juice watermelons or buy ready-pressed. Aim for an intake of 100ml every other day.
It often gets a bad rap from many nutritionists, but when it comes to some forms of cancer, coffee is in the clear.
The World Health Organisation removed coffee from its list of potential carcinogenic substances, but did warn that very hot drinks of any variety may be linked to cancer of the oesophagus, or gullet.
And earlier this year, scientists at the University of Southern California reported how coffee consumption — be it decaf, instant or espresso — decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.
“The more coffee consumed, the lower the risk,” said Stephen Gruber, senior author of the study.
How much: Drink one to two cups of coffee daily. If caffeine is an issue then switch to the water-decaffeinated variety that isn’t chemically prepared.
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