Williams Cancer Institute

Foods That Fight Cancer

foods that fight cancer

Foods That Fight Cancer

It’s not an uncommon thought to be deeply afraid of getting cancer. More than 1.25 million new cases of invasive cancer are diagnosed each year while an additional of 1.5 million cases of noninvasive cancers will be diagnosed. Heartbreakingly, more than 500,000 people will die from cancer each year.

To fully understand how to support the body and prevent cancer, we’ll begin by looking at the connection between cells and cancer. Your body contains trillions of cells and within each cell is a central core called the nucleus. Inside the nucleus lies the key to life, deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA. Our DNA contains the instructions that each cell needs to make its vital proteins and replicate itself.

Any abnormal changes are called mutations which generally recognize they are mutations and simply die off, the process called apoptosis. However, the mutations sometimes continue to divide at a rapid, uncontrolled rate and form clumps of cells that grow into a mass tissue we call a tumor. Now, there are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous because the cells are not cancerous. They can be surgically removed or removed with cancer ablation, which essentially burn or freezes it with special probes. They also don’t spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous. The mutated cells divide without control or sympathy and can invade nearby tissues and organs. The cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system to form tumors in other organs.

The good news? There are nutritional and lifestyle changes each of us can take to aid in the prevention or to support the body while fighting cancer. There are also alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation that one may choose or simultaneously use with conventional medicine such as immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer which may stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, stop the cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body and support the immune system to work efficiently at destroying the cells.

Lifestyle and Health Factors That May Cause Cancer

Toxins and Free Radicals | It’s no shock that continual exposure to toxins and free radicals can cause extreme damage to the cells and DNA. However, it is shocking how many of our daily products and lifestyle choices generate free radicals and contain harmful chemicals. To combat free radical damage, ensure you’re consuming plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

These include:

  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants
  • Consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs
  • High use of antibiotics and certain medications
  • Too much exercise
  • Emotional or physical stress
  • A Standard American Diet (SAD)

A Weakened Immune System | This can be caused by dysbiosis, chronic inflammation, poor nutrition, exposure to toxins and high levels of emotional or physical stress. To boost the immune system ensure you’re consuming whole foods, exercise often and maintain a healthy weight. 70% of our immunity is located in the gut so consume plenty of fiber, fermented foods and prebiotic foods that will work together to create a healthy microbiome.

Ongoing Subclinical Malnutrition | Malnutrition affects every aspect your body and health. It’s essential to consume foods that dense in nutrients, digestion is working optimally and you’re absorbing all of the essential nutrients.

Less than Optimal Liver Function | Consuming processed fatty foods, excess alcohol and toxins can lead to an under-functioning liver. Liver detoxification, consuming whole foods and lessening the amount of chemical-filled products can greatly support and being the liver back into balance.

Mental-Emotional Trauma | Psychological aspects that have been identified by researchers include excessive fear, guilt, the inability to cope with change, denial and self-hate. Speaking with friends, family, a counselor can be incredibly helpful in this aspect. Meditating, yoga, journaling, and reading have also shown to be therapeutic.

Cancer-Causing Foods

Pesticides and Herbicides | I know, pesticides and herbicides aren’t a food, but they are heavily sprayed on our food supply. Industrial farms load our air, water, animals, produce and soil with chemicals. To avoid consuming pesticides choose organic and locally grown foods. Choosing locally grown food also supports local farms and ensures the highest nutrients. To put it into perspective, farmers will pick their produce before it’s ripe to guarantee it’ll arrive at its destination before molding or going bad. This means that the produce isn’t as nutrient dense as locally grown. Have you ever wondered why home-grown strawberries are so incredibly juicy, vibrant and sweet? It’s also more important to consume many vegetables and fruit than only choosing organic, which can get expensive, so, don’t sweat it!

Processed Meat | A study on more than 500,000 Americans has provided incredibly strong evidence that women and men were more likely to die quicker from cancer or heart disease from consuming red and processed meat. These processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, deli meats and pepperoni. However, scientists don’t know the specific type of fat, protein or if it’s the nitrates that are causing cancer or whether the meat signifies low vegetable intake or high intake of processed carbohydrates and sugars.

Fried & Over-Cooked Foods | Acrylamide is found in over-cooked foods like potato chips, fries, grains and sometimes even coffee. The chemical releases when starchy foods are cooked above 248 °F, causing the sugars and the amino acid, asparagine, to create acrylamide which is a carcinogen. The best option when consuming grains or potatoes is to steam, boil simmer or sprout them instead. And avoid processed chips, crackers, and cereals.

Conventional Dairy | Dairy is pushed on the market as a great source of calcium, but many are unaware that conventional milk is actually carcinogenic. Dairy is also high in potent estrogens because it’s produced from pregnant, lactating cows and will add to the estrogen laud in our body and can affect an estrogen-sensitive breast tumor. Lastly, agriculture toxins are known to accumulate in the fat of cows and are found in their milk.

Nutrients and Foods That Fight Cancer

Many foods that fight cancer are considered as they are high in antioxidants, support the immune system and even target cancer. The bioflavonoids, carotenoids, phytochemicals, indoles, and phytoestrogens are all nutrients that play a key role in cancer-fighting foods that many people are deficient in.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids | Essential fatty acids increase tumor necrosis factor and increase the removal of fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides from the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also produce anti-inflammatory effects and studies have connected them to cancer prevention and enhancement of antitumor therapies. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseed and fish oil also increases the number of cell membranes which will ensure the biochemical functioning of the cells. Ensure you’re choosing wild-caught fish and grind up your flax seeds prior to consuming. This will promote the highest amount of nutrients and optimal absorption.

Carotenoids & Antioxidants | Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright orange, vibrant yellow and green colors. Brightly colored fruit and vegetables such as carrots, kale, cantaloupe, mango, kale, broccoli, sweet potato, etc act as antioxidants that have strong cancer-fighting properties. These antioxidants protect the cells from free radical and other dangers that thrive on destroying cell membranes and DNA. Furthermore, some carotenoids (carrots, especially) are also converted to vitamin A which is necessary for cell growth and good eyesight. These foods are more effective when cooked, but be careful not to overcook them. A simple steam or roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and pink Himalayan salt should be sufficient enough.

Cruciferous Vegetables | Cruciferous vegetables contain indoles which are incredibly protective against cancer. Indoles support estrogen turnover and can protect against breast and ovarian cancer. They also increase the production of glutathione peroxide antioxidant enzymes. Furthermore, broccoli contains sulforaphane which will activate enzymes that remove cell carcinogens.

Curcumin | Is found in turmeric and causes cancer cell apoptosis or death. It’s also only toxic to cancer cells and not normal cells. To increase curcumins bioavailability, combine it with coconut oil and/or black pepper.

Onion & Garlic | These stimulate the natural protection against tumors. Onions and garlic contain allyl-sulfurs which aid in liver detoxification and prevent oxidative damage.

Mushrooms | Reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms contain polysaccharide beta-glucan which stimulates the immune system. This is important for cell communication and for normal T-cell function. This substance is also found in vine-ripened fruit and vegetables but is particularly high in Chinese mushroom sand astragalus which is an adaptogenic herb.

Cultured Dairy Products | These contain lactobacilli, a probiotic that increases the production of interferon that raises the level of natural killer cells and block production of carcinogenic substances in the colon. Purchasing or making your own cultured milk, yogurt or butter is a healthier and beneficial option. Pasteurized milk is heated to a high heat to kill any bad bacteria, but it also kills all the good bacteria too that is beneficial for the intestines microflora. If dairy doesn’t agree with your digestive system, you could make your own coconut yogurt or choose lactobacilli probiotic supplement.

Homemade Juice | Short, repeated and intermittent cleanse are sometimes advised for those with cancer, and can be beneficial for other areas of the body too. A good choice is freshly juiced red beet, carrot, green leafy vegetables, grapes, and lemon. This is incredibly rich in antioxidants and minerals.

Meal Plan Example

You’re probably incredibly overwhelmed and wondering how to integrate all these foods into your diet. A simple tip I love is to follow the Rainbow Diet; eat as many colors of the rainbow at each meal.

For breakfast, try organic unsweetened yogurt, berries, and top it off with some flax seeds and nuts.

Lunch could be leftovers from dinner or even a simple salad or roasted vegetables with a protein source like organic chicken or free-range eggs.

For dinner, try a massaged kale salad with roasted sweet potato, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked turmeric and lemon salmon.

Snacks should be high in protein and good fats. If you need the extra energy you could also choose a complex carbohydrate. Raw or lightly steamed vegetables and hummus, apple slices, cinnamon and almond butter, or a handful of nuts, blueberries, and raspberries make the perfect satiating snacks.

Lifestyle Tips

Michael T Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, MD, author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine state that the four cornerstones of good health are:

  1. A positive mental attitude.
  2. A healthful lifestyle
  3. A health-promoting diet
  4. Supplementary measures

Focusing on these four foundations provides the strongest general protection against cancer. Choosing organic and locally grown produce is always encouraged whenever possible but it can get expensive and limit options. Below is a simple guide when choosing if you should purchase organic or conventional, otherwise known as the: clean fifteen and dirty dozen.

Dirty Dozen

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach, Kale and Collard Greens
  9. Cherries
  10. Potatoes
  11. Imported Grapes
  12. Lettuce

Clean Fifteen

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Pineapples
  5. Mango
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Watermelon
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Sweet Onions
  15. Cantaloupe

The reasoning behind the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen (foods that fight cancer) is that the dirty dozen produce don’t have a layer of skin that protects it from pesticides. While it’s still important to wash produce, it’s impossible to wash off any pesticides that were sprayed on the farm. The key component of preventing cancer is to avoid cigarettes, drugs, exercising regularly and consuming alcohol in moderate amounts of not at all. While consuming whole foods vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds, organic meat and wild-caught fish.


  • The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine Michael T Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, MD
  • Pathology The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition
  • Diet and Cancer, Acta Biomed. 2006 Aug; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17172193
  • https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/10-foods-to-help-prevent-cancer/
  • https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/acrylamide

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