Certain lifestyle choices—such as smoking—produce substances called free radicals that attack the healthy cells found in our bodies. When these cells are weakened, the body becomes more susceptible to certain cancers. In order to combat this, there are certain foods you can eat that contain antioxidants to help protect your healthy cells from damage.
Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains can help reduce your chances of getting cancer. A good rule of thumb is to eat a rainbow of foods because each color has a different benefit and will help in cancer prevention.
- Orange/Yellow: Fruits and vegetables that are orange or yellow in color contain carotenoids. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that’s converted in the body to vitamin A and has cancer-fighting properties, among other benefits. Citrus fruits don’t contain vitamin A, but they’re an excellent source of vitamin C and folate. Examples include carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, nectarines, tangerines, lemons, sweet corn, pineapple and cantaloupe.
- Red: These foods contain lycopene or anthocyanin. Lycopene has been show to contain cancer-fighting properties. Consuming cooked red foods with a little fat, such as tomato sauce with olive oil, rather than consuming raw tomatoes, is a better way to absorb lycopene. Anthocyanin protects healthy cells from damage. Examples include red apples, cherries, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, red potatoes, raspberries, pomegranates, strawberries and radishes.
- Green: Green foods contain anticarcinogenic carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. Examples of green foods include spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, green beans, green peas, limes and green tea.
- Blue/Purple: These foods also contain anthocyanin, which helps protect against cancer. Examples include blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, cabbage, purple plums, prunes, purple grapes, figs and raisins.
- White/Tan: These can contain a health-promoting compound called allicin. These compounds may stimulate enzymes that help the body get rid of harmful chemicals and help prevent certain cancers. Examples of white and tan foods include garlic, onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes and ginger.
In summary, eating a variety of colors and at least two cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day is a good start to eating healthy and taking advantage of the natural protection foods have to offer.
For more information regarding healthy eating, you can learn about the Nutritional Counseling Program we offer at Riverview Health.