Buying produce in season is the best way to ensure the freshest available fruits and vegetables, plus – as an added bonus – they are often less expensive. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests a diet filled with a variety of plant foods can help lower the risk for many cancers. Nutritionists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offer advice on which foods in the fall harvest should be an essential part of your cancer-fighting diet.
Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash
Winter squashes are excellent sources of vitamin A, good sources of vitamin C and potassium. They also include four beneficial carotenoids – beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The first two are important for our immune function and for maintaining healthy cells. The remaining two act as antioxidants, protecting our cells from damage.
Previous research suggests that an apple a day can lower the risk of developing certain cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, lung, colon and potentially breast cancer. Quercetin is the promising nutrient, which has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The key to an apples health is to eat the skin – where much of the beneficial nutrients are concentrated.
Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower
About 2 decades ago, researchers first suggested a possible link between diets high in cruciferous vegetables – a group of plants that also include cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts – and a lower risk of cancer. Broccoli contains lutein, a vitamin A-like nutrient which may possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer and bladder cancer. Cruciferous vegetables may also be protective against lung cancer due to a nutrient known as glutathione S-transferase.
Cranberries contain benzoic acid, which may potentially stop the development of colon cancer, lung cancer and a few forms of leukemia. They also contain flavonoids, including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and flavonols, ursolic acid, and hydroxycinnamic acid as well as being a good source of vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Garlic’s peak season is fall, but it is available year-round in jars. Garlic contains allyl sulfur compounds, said to play a major role in ridding the body of cancer-causing chemicals. It may also have immune-boosting properties that may reduce cell growth. Some large population-based human studies have suggested that people who eat more garlic may have a lower risk of stomach, prostate, mouth and throat, kidney, and colorectal cancers.
Proanthocyanidins in grape extracts and resveratrol in the grape skin are currently being studied for possible uses in the prevention and treatment of cancer and other illnesses. These nutrients act as antioxidants to block the action of free radicals, activated oxygen molecules that can damage healthy cells.
Pomegranates are low in fat and an excellent source of fiber, vitamins C and K and a good source of potassium, folate, and copper. The fruits also contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical also found in raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, and pecans. Ellagic acid seems to act as an anti-oxidant, and has been found to cause cancer cell death in lab studies. The nutrient may also reduce the effect of estrogen in promoting growth of breast cancer cells.
Pumpkins, Sweet Potatoes
The orange color of pumpkins and sweet potatoes are rich in carotenoids which may provide protection against breast, prostate, colon and lung cancers. Both are also rich in vitamin C. “The brighter and richer the pigment (color), the higher the level of cancer-fighting nutrients,” says nutritionist Stacy Kennedy MPH RD CSO LDN.
Dark, leafy greens such as kale and swiss chard, and lettuces such as endive, radicchio, and butter lettuce are at their peak in the fall and winter months. Kale in particular is a top cancer-fighting choice because it is rich in phytonutrients known as indoles, which stimulate liver detoxification to help fight cancer. Dark greens are also excellent sources of fiber, folate, carotenoids, saponins and flavonoids.