Power Foods for Cancer Prevention

Heli J. Roy  |  3/24/2005 3:57:31 AM

With a clear link between diet and cancer, it is more important than ever to follow a diet low in saturated fat, moderate in mono-unsaturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy.

Such a diet supplies protective compounds that prevent cancerous changes from happening in our bodies, and they help eliminate harmful substances. The LSU AgCenter nutritionist looks at some of these power foods.

Broccoli. While being cooked, broccoli releases a strong, familiar odor, which comes from the chemical sulforaphane. This compound has been identified as a cancer-preventive agent in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Sulforaphane can detoxify cancer-causing chemicals and reduce cancer risk. Broccoli can be eaten raw, in which case you can get the beneficial chemicals with less odor. Children tend to prefer raw broccoli over cooked because of the odor associated with cooked broccoli. Sulforaphane can also be found in sprouts and teas.

Mushrooms. Exotic mushrooms may hold chemicals that have anti-tumor properties, and some have been used for centuries by Chinese medicine practitioners to treat various ailments. Such rare mushrooms as shiitake, enoke and oyster have chemical compounds that neutralize cancerous cells. More than 100 species of mushrooms are used by Chinese medicine practitioners.

Tomatoes. Lycopene in tomatoes has been known to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Cooked tomato products are particularly high in lycopene, the beneficial molecule. Fortunately, the Western diet has plenty of cooked tomato products.

Citrus fruits. Citrus fruits are full of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Flavonoids inhibit tumor cell growth and can activate important detoxifying enzymes. These polyphenols, called limonoids, inhibit tumor formation by stimulating a detoxifying enzyme, which catalyzes the formation of less toxic and more water-soluble compounds that can be easily excreted from the body. Polyphenols cause the bitter taste in citrus fruits and tanginess in many fruits and teas.

Citrus pulp, or the white part of the orange peel, is rich in compounds called glucarates. These substances may be beneficial in preventing breast cancer, and they may offer some benefit to women who have severe problems with premenstrual syndrome.

Whole grains. Not simply a starch, whole grains are important foods that contain phytochemicals that stimulate detoxifying enzymes to inhibit tumor cell growth. Because these phytochemicals are mainly in the outer bran layer or inner germ part of the grain, make sure you eat whole-grain products to get the benefit. There is a 200- to 300-fold loss of these compounds with refinement process.

Soy. Soybeans are remarkable in the amounts and kinds of compounds with anti-cancer activity. Soybeans are part of a regular diet in the Orient, and consumption of soybeans is thought of as the reason for low incidence of breast, prostate, stomach, colon, rectum and lung cancer compared to Westerners who consume few soybeans.

Herbs and spices. Before refrigeration was invented, spices and herbs, in addition to salt and smoke, were used to preserve meat. Today, we know that ginger, turmeric, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cloves and other flavoring herbs have strong antioxidative activity and influence enzyme activity. These features also help in preventing cancerous changes, and they prevent cancerous cells from growing.

Fish. Coldwater fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids exist mainly in seafoods, although some omega-3 fatty acids are also in soy oil and flax seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are metabolized to short-lived compounds in the body that have remarkably profound activities. They can relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure and reduce inflammatory reactions. They can regulate heart beat and aid in digestion.

Tea. Green tea has been shown to be full of polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants. Green tea has a high concentration of a catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in addition to several others. As an anti-oxidant EGCG inhibits the growth of cancer cells, it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue, it helps reduce blood lipids, and it prevents blood clots that could lead to stroke. Green and black tea are from the same tea leaf, it is the way that it is processed that determines whether it is a "green' or "black" tea. The least processed leaf is "white" tea, and it has the highest concentration of catechins. Black tea has the least amount of catechins.

Roy recommends contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about power foods. In addition, visit the Food & Health section at the LSU AgCenter Web site.

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