August was harvest time – time to reap the great veggie benefits that were planted with care in the spring. While all veggies have health benefits, some have cancer fighting phytochemicals that can help prevent cancer. As rates of cancer continue to rise we feel our best defence is a good offence – that being a cancer preventative diet regime. While there are many tips and tricks for preventing cancer, we thought we would write for the season, the harvest season that is, so at your next trip to the farmer’s market you can incorporate some cancer fighting foods into weekly groceries.
- Brassica Family: The Brassicas are a genus of plants that include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, turnip, rutabaga, radish, watercress and collards. Brassicas contain a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol which can help reduce the risk for hormonally driver cancers such as ovarian, breast and prostate cancer. They also contain phytochemicals which help improve our liver’s detoxification process, and help prevent damage to our DNA. Although Brassicas are a welcome addition to our diet, they may not be to our digestive tract – to help reduce the incidence of gas and bloating, either boil cabbage or lightly steam other Brassicas. If you have a thyroid condition consult with a medical professional about the best way to incorporate the benefits of Brassicas into your diet as raw Brassicas can sometimes interfere with the thyroid function.
Meal suggestions: Add Brassicas to a stir fry, kale to a smoothie or use collard and kale leaves for a sandwich in place of bread.
- Garlic: Most of us have probably heard of some type of natural remedy that involves the use of garlic, but we may not know why it’s so effective. Garlic has many medicinal qualities that make it a good all round natural remedy for just about anything: it’s antibacterial, antifungal and anti-viral. These properties help prevent cancers from infectious diseases such as H.Pylori (the precursor to stomach cancer) and HPV (the precursor for ovarian cancer). But garlic is also a great source of selenium which is a trace mineral that helps inhibit the growth of cancer. It also enhances the body’s detoxification process, which is a very important factor for surviving a toxic world (see the Rubber Duck Book).
Meal suggestions: While eating garlic raw gives the best benefit, it’s not necessarily the easiest way. Try swallowing small cloves, or adding it to meals such as pasta or stir-fries. A tasty way we like to eat raw garlic is in a guacamole: mash up a couple of avocadoes with a couple of cloves of freshly crushed garlic and chopped onion. It’s a tasty addition to snacks, sandwiches or summer BBQ’d foods.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain something called lycopene which is a cancer fighting antioxidant. Lycopene has been proven to reduce susceptibility to a variety of cancers such as ovarian, prostate, breast, cervical, oral and esophageal. Lycopene is a carotene which gives food its red colour, and although lycopene can be found in other foods such as guava, watermelon and grapefruit, we are focusing on tomatoes because they tend to have the highest bioavailable amount of lycopene. Tomatoes are also easily found locally whether you’ve grown them yourself in your back yard or purchase from your local farmer’s market. Since they are local they will be the freshest and higher in nutrients.
Meal suggestions: Since lycopene is 5x more bioavailable when it is cooked, try making your own pasta sauce or a summer gazpacho soup. You can also throw some chopped up stewed tomatoes into the guac recipe mentioned above to get even more benefit.
- Rosemary: While suggestions 1-3 mentioned above are more commonly known in the natural health industry for their cancer fighting properties, a lesser known ally in cancer prevention is rosemary. It contains a phytochemical known as quinine that helps to neutralize carcinogens (substances that cause cancer). It can also help reduce the risk of cancers linked to estrogen levels, and has been found to inhibit the growth of various human cancer cells.
Meal suggestions: Rosemary adds lots of flavour and aroma to your meals so try adding some to your pasta sauce or soups. It can also be used as a tea by adding some fresh rosemary to a cup of hot water. Rosemary is easy to find at your local farmer’s market or store, but the best way is to grow your own so you can use it when it’s at its freshest. Rosemary can easily be grown in a backyard garden or in a condo windowsill.
- Soy: Although soy has a lot of conflicting opinions about it, the truth is that organic non-GMO soy has many cancer fighting benefits. It contains a phytochemical called genistein which can cause a programmed cell death in damaged or cancerous cells in the breast, ovary and prostate. It can also prevent blood vessels from attaching to cancerous tumors. This is important because the blood vessels transport nutrients throughout the body. When they are attached to a cancerous tumor they can also transport nutrients to the tumor and help it grow. Genistein prevents this connection thereby encouraging the starvation of the cancerous tumors of their blood supply. Essentially, soy can help inhibit the growth of cancer. While soy is a source of phyto-estrogens (plant based estrogen), this source is a weaker form of estrogen and can actually lower the body’s own estrogen load. This is beneficial because research shows that lowering the body’s estrogen load is protective against breast cancer.
Meal suggestions: You can use a vegan soy protein powder for smoothies in the morning or try adding soy to meals such as a stir fry or pasta (in place of meat). Make sure you read the labels carefully to be sure you are getting an organic non-GMO soy product. One of our favourite soy products is made by a company called Ying Ying.
** Information to write this article was based off of the research of Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur, ND in her article entitled “Dietary and Nutritional Guidelines for Cancer Prevention and Recovery”. CAND Vital Link. Summer 2014.