In honor of National Cancer Survivor Month this June, we are happy to present the Top 50 Foods to prevent cancer. So many whole foods are considered anti-cancer for reasons ranging from fiber content to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has been estimated that 30–40 percent of all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle and dietary measures alone so what you eat definitely matters. Here is the ultimate Foodtrients® list of the top 50 foods to prevent cancer. Mix and match these healthy whole foods to include them in your diet daily to reduce your risk today.
An apple a day is great advice when it comes to preventing cancer. This common fruit contains the powerful antioxidant vitamin C in addition to 5 grams of fiber and healthful phytochemicals. Special compounds to note include quercetin, a flavonoid that shows anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, epicatechin and (in red apples) anthocyanins all which may benefit the human body through anti-cancer, free-radical scavenging effects.
Rich in antioxidant vitamins C and beta-carotene, apricots also have a number of other antioxidants in the form of phytonutrients. Of note, apricots are rich in polyphenolic antioxidants like flavonoids which have been linked to health benefits in humans. One practice that shows up in some alternative cancer treatments is eating apricot seeds but this practice is, in fact, not safe because the seeds of an apricot are rich in toxic cyanide. Avoid eating the pits or seeds of this fruit and focus instead on the soft, orange colored flesh.
In studies, extracts from the edible part of artichokes expressed antitumor effects on breast cancer in the lab setting. Though normal cells were not negatively affected, the extract inhibited cell growth of cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. Include artichoke as a part of your regular diet but be sure to experiment with adding flavor in ways other than dousing it in butter or cream.
All beans (and lentils!) are very anti-cancer. A plant-based protein and complex carbohydrate source full of fiber, this food group also offers a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Triterpenoids, flavonoids, inositol, and plant sterols are part of the benefit aside from B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. Better yet, beans are incredibly culinarily versatile.
Did you know that bell peppers are a richer source of vitamin C than oranges or other citrus? These colorful veggies are also packed with a variety of antioxidants including flavonoids. Intake of these compounds has been shown in studies to reduce cancer risk by inhibiting enzymes such as prostaglandin synthase, lipoxygense and cyclooxygenase which are all closely related to tumor growth.
A unique source of phytonutrients called betalains, beets contain special anti-cancer properties. In lab studies on human tumor cells, pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth including tissue from colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicles. One interesting mechanism observed in studies includes the inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes.
These little berries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K and a good source of fiber. Blueberries are among the fruits highest in antioxidant content, largely due to their phytochemicals including anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, kaempferol and other flavonoids which have proven anti-cancer effects in vitro or in the lab setting.
Delicate, versatile bok choy is packed with vitamins A, C, and K as well as a variety of antioxidant flavonoids. These properties are likely part of the relationship between this veggie to cancer prevention since prevention and reduction of oxidative stress has often been linked to decreased cancer risk.
These large nuts contain high levels of the powerful antioxidant selenium which has been linked to anti-cancer benefits in studies. Selenium is a component of the potent antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase which is made in the body. Studies have known as little as two Brazil nuts per day helped study participants meet their needs.
‘Eat your broccoli’ is good advice because it contains a compound called sulforophane, in addition to a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which has proven in studies to be very anti-cancer. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study found that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables (5 or more servings/week vs less than two servings/week) was associated with a 33% lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Found in your local natural food store, broccoli sprouts are a bit different than regular broccoli. In fact, one sprout contains all the sulforophane that is present in a full-grown broccoli plant so this concentrated source provides even more potent benefit. Sprinkle broccoli sprouts on your salad or sandwich as a garnish today for a powerful anti-cancer boost.
Brussels are a member of the cruciferous family, famous for their anti-cancer properties. Aside from vitamins, minerals, and fiber, Brussels sprouts contain unique anti-inflammatory and free-radical scavenging metabolites including glucosinolates, S-methylcysteine sulfoxide, flavonoids, anthocyanins, coumarins, carotenoids, antioxidant enzymes, and terpenes. A lot of benefit in a little veggie!
Cabbage is an especially good source of the compound sinigrin, a sulfur-containing glucosinolates with promise in cancer prevention research. Sinigrin in cabbage can be converted into allyl-isothiocyanate which has shown unique cancer preventive properties for bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. So versatile, include purple, red and green cabbage in salads and soups on a daily basis if you can.
Both carrots and carrot juice are the richest dietary sources of antioxidants beta-carotene and alpha-carotene which our bodies convert to vitamin A. A large body of literature indicates that dietary carotenoids are cancer preventative and act both as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Including carrots in your diet could be disease protective as well as delicious.
This cruciferous veggie may be white in color, but it contains potent antioxidant and anti-cancer potential, another reason to include veggies of ALL colors in your diet. Just like other cruciferous including broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cauliflower has proven free-radical scavenging ability from glucosinolates which form cancer fighting isothiocyanates and indoles when ingested.
Packed with vitamin C, cherries are a rich source of anthocyanins which are antioxidants found in red and purple fruits with potential anti-cancer benefits. Other potent antioxidant specific to cherries include hydroxycinnamic acid and perillyl alcohol. Include this delicious summer treat in the diet as a snack, in healthy desserts, and in fresh salads.
Like garlic and onion, chives are also part of the Allium genus and contain organosulfur compounds responsible for the odor and taste of these vegetables in addition to the anti-cancer benefits. Elevate chives to more than just a garnish in your diet by maximizing their potential in salads, soups and entrees.
A 2016 study found that including one to two servings of coffee per day reduced risk of colorectal cancer by over 25%! When study participants drank 2.5 servings of coffee per day, risk dropped by 54%. Both caffeinated and decaf drinkers saw benefit, likely due to the polyphenol antioxidant content in this healthy beverage. Other studies have cited a decreased risk in breast and liver cancers tied to coffee consumption. Be sure not to overconsume (upwards of three servings) and watch the added cream and sugar which can negate health benefits.
These tart berries have been shown to possess anti-cancer activities in studies including the inhibition of growth of several cancer cell lines such as breast cancer in the lab setting. Be sure that when you include cranberries in your diet, you choose a variety low in added sugar. Because cranberries are tart, many manufacturers add a cane syrup and sugar to enhance the taste.
The greens of this common flowering weed are in fact packed with nutrients including calcium and are known for enhancing detoxifying activity in the liver. Because of these effects, dandelion greens are packed with anti-cancer properties. Not everyone has access to these seasonal leafy greens, but if they grow in your area, be sure to include them in a salad today! Try blending dandelion greens with other lettuce as they are slightly bitter and pair well with something sweeter like spinach.
Like other types of soy (and many types of plants we consume on a daily basis), edamame contains healthful phytoestrogens or plant estrogens. A cup of edamame pods contains 8 grams of fiber in addition to antioxidant isoflavones daidzein and genestein. Studies suggest that these compounds as well as others such as saponins in edamame and other soy may protect against cancer and are safe to consume.
This fragrant herb is packed with antioxidants including beta-carotene, limonene, quercetin, benzoic acid, fumaric acid, kaempferol, myristicin, quercetin, and rutin. What do you get from these plant compounds? Culinary herbs and spices like fennel serve as antioxidants. Helping to reduce inflammation and tumorigenesis, foods like fennel which inhibit these processes can contribute to cancer prevention.
Fiber again! Flaxseeds contain anti-cancer benefits such as a high fiber content, lignins and omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that the body cannot break flaxseeds open during digestion, so grinding them is the best way to get access to their health effects.
This pantry staple contains an antioxidant called allicin, which may help thin the blood and provide cancer fighting benefits. A recent review on the effects of garlic consumption on cancers of the stomach, colon, head and neck, lung, breast and prostate concluded that the available evidence suggests a preventative effect of garlic consumption in stomach and colorectal cancer, while the data concerning other types of cancer was inconclusive at this time.
Another heart health powerhouse you have in your cupboard, the herb ginger is a strong anti-inflammatory because of its gingerol and other phenolic antioxidant compounds. Better yet, ginger can be used to calm the stomach which can be a helpful natural remedy if undergoing cancer treatment.
Aside from supporting hydration, green tea contains powerful antioxidants including flavanol, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which can inhibit cancer cell growth. Uniquely, green tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which is known for calming properties. This can be helpful during stressful times, such as going through cancer treatment.
Though grapefruit interacts negatively with several medications, including some chemotherapies, it’s beneficial effects for cancer prevention are undeniable. Packed with vitamins and fiber, antioxidants in grapefruit include naringenin, limonin, beta-carotene and lycopene. Check with your pharmacist to ensure eating grapefruit is safe for you and if it is, include it in your diet regularly for an anti-cancer boost.
Both grapes and grape juice are rich sources of resveratrol, a type of natural phytochemical that serves as an antioxidant. Keep in mind that the skin of the grape contains the most resveratrol and red and purple grapes contain significantly more of this benefit than green grapes. Research points to resveratrol’s ability to slow the growth of cancer cells and inhibit the formation of tumors in lymphatic, liver, stomach and breast cells in the lab setting.
Both a green leafy veggie as well as a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, kale is a wonderful addition to an anti-cancer diet. Notoriously high in nutrients and antioxidants, kale is a hot food trend for good reason. Choose the variety you enjoy the most – curly, baby or dinosaur, and use it fresh in salads, baked into chips, sautéed or wilted, or even blended up in a smoothie.
Another member of the allium family similar to chives and garlic, leeks may be an undervalued veggie. With a soft, chewy consistency and light flavor, leeks are high in anti-cancer antioxidants such as allcin and quercetin in addition to fiber, vitamins and minerals.
All types of lettuce have value – from Romain to Iceberg. Though everyone should seek variety in the types of fruits and veggies they consume, focus on the type you enjoy the most and if that means you enjoy crunchy, pale Iceberg lettuce, that’s ok! All lettuce contains high water content in addition to fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Use lettuce as a vehicle for other nutritious foods – add a salad dressing full of healthy fats like olive oil or throw in other favorite veggies like tomatoes, onions and shredded carrots or beets.
All variety of mushrooms contain beneficial nutrients in addition to a unique compound called beta-glucans, a polysaccharide known for antitumor and immunomodulating properties. This special type of fiber also found in oats and seaweed. When considering anti-cancer benefits of mushrooms, there are several non-edible varieties that are marketed in supplement or tincture form. For more information on these, check out Foodtrients blog posts on Turkey Tail and Reishi mushrooms. Keep in mind that regular mushrooms you can find in the grocery store also contain wonderful nutrient and anti-cancer properties!
Similar to other bitter greens like dandelion, mustard greens are packed with anti-cancer vitamins and minerals. They also help support detoxification in the liver. Bitter compounds in food are stimulating to liver function and contain the nutrients needed for both phase 1 (activation) and phase 2 (elimination) detox.
Very high in fiber as well as unique compounds called beta-glucans, oatmeal is a delicious anti-cancer food. Studies show specifically that the type of fiber found in oats help protect against breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, a 52% lower risk compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).
Oranges are packed with healthful fiber and potassium, which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Oranges and other citrus are rich in antioxidant vitamin C which is a potent scavenger of free-radicals as well as a precursor to collagen which can be helpful if healing from radiation therapy or surgery. Research specifically indicates that eating oranges can help reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
Onions are another allium vegetable packed with the antioxidant quercetin. Sulfur compounds from onion also stimulate carcinogen-detoxifying enzymes, such as glutathione-Stransferase. Consume any type of onion (yellow, red, sweet) any way you like them – cooked, raw or blended into a sauce or stew – for anti-cancer benefit as well as delicious, savory flavor.
Rich in toxin excreting soluble fiber, pears also contain anti-cancer vitamins C and K. Many of the pear’s benefit, including most of the fiber and antioxidant flavonoids, are contained in the skin of the fruit so be sure to eat your pears unpeeled. Choose any variety you enjoy the most – green or red.
Anti-cancer research on pomegranate arils and juice is compelling. These beautiful fruits are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids which may help fight free radical damage and cool inflammation. Pomegranate arils are loaded with vitamin C as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals.
While too much alcohol is certainly a risk factor for several types of cancer, a little can be protective, likely due to its antioxidant resveratrol. In one series of studies, resveratrol blocked the development of skin, breast and leukemia cancers at all three stages of the disease and it has also triggered the death of colon cancer tumors in some studies. Recent studies have also linked the regular intake of wine, especially in excess, to increased risk of breast cancer.
Rich in minerals and anti-inflammatory omega-3s fatty acids, the American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon per week to support health. Salmon is one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D and several prospective studies of this vitamin and cancer have shown a protective effect.
Yet another potent allium vegetable that contains sulfur compounds similar to the onion stimulates carcinogen-detoxifying enzymes, such as glutathione-Stransferase. Shallots have a slightly milder flavor than onions but are still packed with anti-cancer benefit. Whether you sautee with onion, garlic, leeks or shallot, this family deserves a place in your kitchen.
Rich in both fat- and water-soluble vitamins including heart healthy folic acid, vitamins K and A, calcium and iron, spinach is a versatile and delicious green leafy veggie. Some people going through cancer treatment are at risk for anemia, so the nutrients in spinach can be helpful if included in the diet. Spinach is always a welcome ingredient in smoothies, casseroles, eggs and salad so include it in a variety of ways in the diet.
Like bell peppers, strawberries contain more vitamin C per serving than some citrus. A potent free radical scavenging antioxidant, eat strawberries for their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber as well as their delicious, delicate flavor.
Yellow colored winter squash contains fiber and a variety of cancer-fighting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Key players include beta and alpha-carotene, carotenoids that can act as antioxidants and support the immune system to keep cancer from ever developing.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is so versatile and delicious. Another form of soy product, it contains the antioxidant isoflavones daidzein and genestein in addition to saponins, phenolic acids and phytic acid. These compounds act antioxidants and are being studied for their potential to stop cancer cells from spreading.
A healthy vegetarian and vegan friendly protein, soy contains anticancer compounds including minerals, fiber, antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats. Because soy contains estrogen-like compounds, there was fear that soy may raise risk of hormone-related cancers. Evidence shows this is not true and that it is both safe and beneficial to include in the diet.
The secret weapon of tomatoes is the antioxidant lycopene which is enhanced by cooking. Use tomatoes daily in sauces, soups, stews, eggs, and on salads to boost the anti-cancer properties of this versatile food. Several prospective cohort studies have found associations between high intake of lycopene and reduced incidence of prostate cancer.
Easy to find in a natural grocery store or market, turmeric root contains the powerful anti-inflammatory compound curcumin. A bright yellow spice, turmeric may help to fight inflammation and tumorigenesis, contributing to cancer prevention.
Walnuts contain high amounts of cancer fighting polyphenols, phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties. They also contain a broad range of other potentially protective compounds including vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
Whole grains are unprocessed carbohydrate sources packed with energy, vitamins, minerals and fiber for the body. Research has found specifically that the inclusion of whole grains in the diet help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Choose from brown rice, oats, corn, whole-wheat or farro, barley, kasha, millet and sorghum for health promoting effects including cancer fighting properties.
What are your favorite cancer-fighting foods? Let us know in the comments!
Donaldson MS. Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition journal. 2004 Oct 20;3(1):19.
Thomson M, Ali M. Garlic [Allium sativum]: a review of its potential use as an anti-cancer agent. Current cancer drug targets. 2003 Feb 1;3(1):67-81.
Wargovich MJ. Anticancer properties of fruits and vegetables. HortScience. 2000 Jul 1;35(4):573-5.
American Institute for Cancer Research: AICR’s foods that fight cancer. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/soy.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/?referrer=http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/soy.html. Accessed 5/16/17.
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Apricot. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=3. Accessed 5/17/17.
Worlds Healthiest Food: Beets. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49. Accessed 5/17/17.
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Bok Choy http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=152. Accessed 5/17/17.
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Oats.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=54. Accessed 5/30/17.
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Oranges.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=37. Accessed 5/30/17.
Mileo AM, Di Venere D, Linsalata V, Fraioli R, Miccadei S. Artichoke polyphenols induce apoptosis and decrease the invasive potential of the human breast cancer cell line MDA‐MB231. Journal of cellular physiology. 2012;227(9):3301-9.
Zhang D, Hamauzu Y. Phenolic compounds, ascorbic acid, carotenoids and antioxidant properties of green, red and yellow bell peppers. J. Food Agric. Environ. 2003;1(2):22-7.
Kaefer CM, Milner JA. The role of herbs and spices in cancer prevention. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry. 2008;19(6):347-61.
Sun J, Liu RH. Cranberry phytochemical extracts induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Cancer letters. 2006;241(1):124-34.
Wasser SP. Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides. Applied microbiology and biotechnology. 2002;60(3):258-74.
Lansky EP, Newman RA. Punica granatum (pomegranate) and its potential for prevention and treatment of inflammation and cancer. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2007;109(2):177-206.
Aune D, Chan DS, Lau R, Vieira R, Greenwood DC, Kampman E, Norat T. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Bmj. 2011;343:d6617.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.