Cancer is the nation's second leading cause of death, and every day it seems we learn about a new risk factor or something we need to stop doing or avoid to reduce our chances of getting this deadly disease.
But the good news is that eating the right foods can help you protect yourself against cancer. Sharon Saka, a registered dietitian in Suffern, New York, says a diet rich in fiber, vegetables, and fruits, including juices made from 100 percent fruit juice, can make a big difference in your cancer risk. Add 30 minutes of moderate activity five or more days a week and you'll reduce your cancer risk even more.
So which foods should you eat? Look for foods with phytochemicals, says Saka, which are found in beans and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kale. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, romaine lettuce, and collard greens are packed with fiber, lutein, and carotenoids, all cancer-fighting substances. Foods rich in the vitamins C, E, and A, all antioxidants themselves, can protect you from cancer by preventing the growth of free radicals in your body, so stock up on oranges, avocados, and apricots!
Here are 12 superfoods you can add to your daily diet to reduce your risk of cancer.
This fruit/vegetable is the epitome of a cancer-fighting superfood. Not only do tomatoes contain lycopene, the antioxidant phytochemical that also helps prevent heart disease, but they're a good source of vitamins A, C, and E -- all enemies of cancer-friendly free radicals.
Pile tomatoes, spinach, and peppers on top of ready-made pizza dough and top with tomato sauce and part-skim mozzarella. Pop some cherry tomatoes into your romaine lettuce salad. Stuff your sandwiches with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and alfalfa sprouts or shredded broccoli. However you do it, find a way to add tomatoes to your daily diet.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup sliced tomatoes, about 32 calories 1 cup fresh spinach, about 7 calories 1/2 cup sliced green peppers, about 18 calories 1/4 cup part-skim mozzarella, about 80 calories 1 cup cherry tomatoes, about 27 calories 1 cup alfalfa sprouts, about 10 calories 1 cup broccoli slaw, about 30 calories
Cut a watermelon into bite-sized pieces for a huge dose of antioxidants, about 80 percent of your daily vitamin C, and 30 percent of your vitamin A, or beta carotene. Watermelon also contains lycopene, the famous cancer-fighting substance found in tomatoes. Plus, recent studies show that eating more fruits and vegetables leads to a lower risk of lung, oral, esophageal, and colon cancer.
Recommended Serving Size: 2 cups of watermelon, about 80 calories
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, which help reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer. Plus cabbage is rich in fiber and has almost 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, making it a well-rounded superfood with cancer-fighting power.
Carrots are a wonderful source of fiber and beta carotene, and they have a whopping 308 percent of the RDA for vitamin A. Combine shredded cabbage and carrots with your favorite low-fat mayonnaise and some red wine vinegar for a delicious side to any meal.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup shredded cabbage, about 21 calories 1 cup grated carrots, about 45 calories 1 T. vinegar, about 3 calories 1 T. reduced fat mayonnaise, about 48 calories
Did you know that one-quarter cup of kidney beans has the same amount of fiber and protein as two ounces of red meat? Whole wheat pasta is also a good source of fiber, and broccoli will tip the daily scales for your daily vitamin A and C needs. Toss them all together with your favorite low-fat Italian dressing for a simple dinner of cancer-fighting proportions.
Recommended Serving Size: 3/4 cup whole wheat pasta, about 162 calories 1/4 cup drained kidney beans, about 51 calories 2/3 cup of broccoli, about 33 calories 1 tablespoon of reduced calorie Italian salad dressing, about 56 calories
If cigarettes are cancer sticks, then chopped peppers are anticancer sticks. They're packed with all the nutrients you need to reduce your cancer risk: lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
Dried apricots are rich in beta-carotene, and they're perfect for storing in your desk at work as an alternative to the vending machine's fatty snacks. If you're craving a little salt, try a handful of sunflower seeds, which contain selenium, an infamous cancer nemesis.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup red peppers, about 24 calories 1/4 cup dried apricots, about 79 calories 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds, about 93 calories
Both blueberries and strawberries are rich in vitamin C and fiber. Plus they just taste darn good. Add some to your whole grain cereal or oatmeal in the morning. Mix some into your cup of plain yogurt, or top off your ice cream with a handful.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup blueberries, about 80 calories (all berries give you lots of fiber and vitamin C) 1 cup strawberries, about 46 calories
Sharon Saka is a Registered Dietitian, a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist, and a member of the American Dietetic Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
With additional reporting by Stephanie Jones Wagle.