Cancer-Fighting Foods to Add to Your Diet

Medically Reviewed By Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
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Certain foods may help reduce your risk of cancer. These cancer-fighting foods can be an important addition to a healthy, balanced diet.

The word “diet” can have many meanings. This article uses the term “diet” to refer to an eating lifestyle rather than a temporary change in how you eat.

Many people wonder whether their nutrition can help prevent cancer or slow its progress. Eating a wide variety of plant foods is a good start. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans contain hundreds of healthy phytochemicals you cannot get from a dietary supplement.

Here are some of the best cancer-fighting and preventive foods to add to your plate.

Broccoli

Vegetables arranged in a heart shape on a blue background
J.R. PHOTOGRAPHY/Stocksy United

Broccoli contains isothiocyanate and indole compounds. These compounds have blocked cancer-causing substances and slowed tumor growth in animal studies. Other ways cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, may help reduce your risk of cancer include:

  • helping protect cells from DNA damage
  • helping to deactivate carcinogens
  • having antibacterial and antiviral effects
  • having anti-inflammatory effects
  • inducing apoptosis, or cell death
  • inhibiting tumor blood vessel formation

Other cruciferous vegetables include:

  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
  • kale and collard greens
  • Brussels sprouts
  • radish
  • arugula
  • bok choy
  • horseradish
  • turnip and rutabaga
  • watercress
  • wasabi

Learn about the health benefits of broccoli.

Cranberries

With their tart flavor and deep red color, cranberries add both visual appeal and nutrients to the menu. They contain anthocyanins and flavonols, which may boost the immune system and help detoxify harmful substances.

In vitro and animal studies show that cranberries and cranberry-derived nutrients can decrease cancer cell viability, density, and reproduction. Cancers that cranberries may help prevent include:

Research is ongoing to learn more about cranberries and cranberry-derived nutrients as cancer-fighting foods.

Dark green, leafy vegetables

Dark green, leafy vegetables contain high levels of carotenoids. These antioxidants may protect your cells and help block the early stages of cancer. Due to high levels of carotenoids, dark leafy greens may be one of the most effective cancer-fighting foods.

Dark green, leafy vegetables include:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • chard
  • bok choy
  • collard greens
  • mustard greens
  • turnip greens

Garlic

Research varies on garlic as a cancer-fighting food. Animal studies suggest that allium compounds in garlic can help prevent and fight cancer. However, human studies on this are limited.

Garlic is high in antioxidants and may also have antibacterial properties. It can help reduce the levels of Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers. There is also a link between H. pylori and stomach cancer.

Eating large amounts of raw garlic can cause digestive issues. However, one or two cloves in sauces, salad dressings, or other dishes may provide health benefits without digestive issues.

Learn more about the health benefits of garlic.

Grapes

Resveratrol is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound in grapes, especially red and purple ones. It is most concentrated in the skin. Reservatrol is one of the compounds that may play a role in grapes being a cancer-fighting food.

Cell and animal studies have shown that grapes may influence the genes that can cause cancer to develop.

Green tea

Green tea has long been a medicinal drink in Japan and China. Catechins in green tea may have health benefits, including helping prevent certain cancers.

However, more research is necessary to verify green tea as a cancer-fighting food.

Some people with cancer drink green tea because they believe it may:

  • boost their immune system
  • improve energy levels and overall health
  • help rid their body of toxins

Read more about the health benefits of green tea.

Soy

Whether you consume tofu, miso, tempeh, edamame, or soy milk, you get the health benefits of soybeans. Soy foods are rich in estrogen-like isoflavones, such as genistein and daidzein. Soy is also one of the few plant foods that provide all of the amino acids your body needs to create protein.

Studies suggest soy foods may help protect against hormone-related cancers, including breast and prostate cancers.

Winter squash

The deep orange flesh of winter squashes is rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoid pigments. These carotenoids combine with vitamin C to help winter squash boost your immune system. Winter squashes include acorn, butternut, pumpkin, and more.

Studies show that winter squash may help decrease the risk of certain cancers, such as:

Tomatoes

Tomatoes get their red color from lycopene, a strong antioxidant. Some research indicates that lycopene may protect against prostate and other cancers.

Processed tomato products, such as tomato paste and juice, are the most concentrated sources of lycopene.

Whole grains

Many compounds in whole grains have health-promoting properties. For instance, the fiber in whole grains may help prevent colorectal cancer. Their saponins, phenols, and other nutrients may lower the risk for colon and breast cancer.

It is still possible to eat whole grains on a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free whole grains include:

  • quinoa
  • buckwheat
  • corn
  • brown and wild rice

Supplements

There is little evidence to show that supplements may help prevent cancer. In fact, some studies suggest that certain supplements may increase the risk of certain cancers.

The most effective way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is through a balanced diet.

If you are undergoing certain cancer treatments, your doctor may recommend a multivitamin. They may also recommend individual supplements, such as vitamin D or calcium, to support bone health. These supplements can help make up for nutrient deficiencies that result from certain treatments.

However, some supplements can interfere with cancer treatments. Always consult with your doctor before starting any vitamins or supplements.

Foods to limit

While adding certain foods to a healthy, balanced diet may help reduce your risk of cancer, this research is still ongoing. However, certain foods are better to limit in your diet.

Foods to avoid or limit

  • alcohol
  • processed meats, such as sausage, ham, and bacon
  • red meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb
  • sugary drinks, such as sodas and energy drinks

Summary

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important to maintaining your overall health. Adding certain foods may also help reduce your risk of cancer.

These cancer-fighting foods also have many other health benefits. Eating broccoli, dark leafy greens, and whole grains can improve your health and help prevent many complications.

Limiting alcohol, processed meats, and sugary drinks can also help improve your health. It can help you maintain a moderate weight and reduce your risk of related conditions, such as diabetes.

In some instances, vitamins and supplements may also benefit your health. However, certain supplements can increase your risk for cancer or interfere with certain cancer treatments. Talk with your doctor before starting any dietary supplements.

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Medical Reviewer: Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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