Foods to fight cancer

It's an alarming statistic- 48 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every single day in Australia and I am sure that all of us have had our lives touched in some way by this terrible disease. As October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month today I am looking at the foods we should be eating to REDUCE the risk of cancer.


Cancer is a chronic disease which occurs when abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through blood. There are many factors that come into play which increase our risks such as genetics, poor oestrogen metabolism and clearance, exposure to environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke, heavy metals, synthetic hormones, plastics and some pesticides. Avoiding exposure to xeno oestrogens (foreign oestrogen like substances) is important. Minimising use of plastics e.g. drinking containers, heating food in plastic containers and avoid wrapping food in plastic. The softer and more pliable the plastic the more toxic it is. Avoiding products that contain parabens is also advisable such as cosmetics and toothpastes as parabens have been shown to mimic the action of oestrogen within the body which is best avoided particularly for oestrogen based cancers such as breast. Its not about getting obsessive or paranoid about these things but slathering perfumed paraben filled body lotions, washes or fake tans all over your body every day is not something I would recommend.

Prevention is always better than cure. Good nutrition and in particular, certain foods, can help to interact with and neutralise free radicals, thus preventing them from causing damage to our cells. A healthy diet can therefore give us the best protection possible and reduce the risk however contributory factors such as stress, artificial hormones, a diet full of processed food, toxins and sugar need to be addressed as this can certainly weaken our cells protective ability and add further stress to the system.

Foods to avoid

  • Refined Sugar. Too much sugar can triggers inflammation, weight gain, ageing, and possible diabetes. Sugar is food and fuel for cancer cells. It is important to avoid any refined sugars like white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrups, jams, chocolate, lollies, confectionary, etc. Avoid artificial sugar sweeteners which can be full of chemicals.

  • Avoid refined white flour, cakes, pastries, cookies, wheat, refined breakfast cereal s (e.g.cornflakes, nutrigrain, cocopops), pasta, cous cous, unrefined and unpolished grains.

  • Oils like sunflower, corn, soy, safflower and peanut contain high linoleic acid, which can have an inflammatory influence on the body. Also, many vegetable oils contain a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, and very less of omega-3. Too much of omega-6 and less of omega-3 in body promotes inflammation and increases the risk of chronic diseases.

  • Trans Fats increase the level of bad cholesterol, promote inflammation, obesity and can alter the cell membrane structure making us more prone to disease. Most processed foods contain some amount of trans fat e.g. burgers, pizzas, hot dogs, hot chips etc. Avoid any food products which contain trans fat, vegetable shortening, margarine or hydrogenated oil in them. This includes margarine spreads even the supposedly ‘healthy’ ones.

  • Avoid deep fried, fatty foods, fast foods, junk foods

  • Processed meat and packaged meat products such as ham, bacon, sausages. These products contain toxic chemicals that increase our risk of disease.

  • Alcohol, fizzy drinks. Limit alcohol to once or twice a week only. Alcohol is full of sugar and robs the body of important nutrients.

  • Processed and packaged foods can be high in sodium and sugar, low in nutrients and high in food additives such as artificial chemicals, flavours and preservatives.

Foods to eat

We need to eat a diet high in antioxidants and fibre to reduce our cancer risk. The antioxidants help to protect our cells from damage and the fibre helps to keep our gut healthy and aids the removal of toxins and old hormones from the system. Findings from the 2010 European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) that looked at dietary factors associated with higher cancer risks showed that there is a significant association between cancer risk and low intakes of certain nutrients. Data from the investigation that was published in the European Journal of Cancer showed an association between higher intakes of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin E and fibre with overall reduction of cancer risk.

A predominantly plant based diet is therefore recommended. I would go so far as to say that the majority of the population does not eat enough fruit and vegetables. Aim to eat at least two serves of vegetables with every meal (yes even breakfast) and a couple of pieces of fruit a day to be sure you are eating enough of the good stuff. One small sprig of broccoli and half a carrot isn’t enough. Choose lots of brightly coloured vegetables such as carrots, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, beetroot, pumpkin, sweet potato. Berries in particular contain very high concentrations of phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which slow down the growth of premalignant cells - Blueberries, pomegranate, blackberries Think rainbow on a plate.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli and high in nutrients and fibre, are wonderful to help liver detoxification and are also anti cancerous. Cruciferous veggies contain sulforaphane, a particularly potent compound that boosts the body's protective enzymes and indoles which have been shown to help protect cells from cancer. Indoles help to clear excess oestrogen from the body making them particularly beneficial to those prone to oestrogen and hormone based cancers.

Breast cancer is a multi-factorial illness however the evidence linking iodine deficiency to breast cancer is strong. Iodine deficiency has been linked to cysts, particularly in the breast and even breasts cancer as we need iodine to help regulate a healthy oestrogen balance within the body. More of us are turning to natural sea salt over iodised table salt which was one of our main sources of iodine which therefore increases our risk of deficiency. Seaweed is one of the best sources of iodine e.g. sea kelp, nori sushi rolls and seaweed snacks. Please be aware that iodine may be contra indicated with some thyroid diseases such as Graves disease so always consult a healthcare professional prior to making dietary changes.

Top cancer fighting foods:

  • Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries

  • Pomegranate

  • Citrus

  • Apples

  • Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Fresh fish, particularly oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, are actually a great anti-inflammatory food high in omega 3.

  • Legumes, chickpeas, lentils, beans

  • Green tea

  • Seaweed

  • Nuts – Brazil, almond, walnuts

  • Seeds – Pumpkin, flaxseeds

  • Fresh herbs - turmeric, garlic, rosemary and ginger

  • Whole grains and high fibre foods such as legumes, leafy vegetables, fruits, oats.

If you are concerned that you are not getting enough nutrients a natural health practitioner can guide you. It is advisable to have regular health checks and to also assess nutritional deficiencies via pathology work.

Recommended tests to help determine which foods your body needs more or less of include CBC, folate, B12, full iron studies, CRP, zinc, iodine spot test, oestrogen metabolite test, MTHFR.

Lifestyle tips

  • Get a good nights sleep. Avoid bright lights, stimulants and loud TV, music right before bedtime.

  • Let it go. Harbouring resentment, guilt and anger can be damaging to health. Look at ways to release deep seated emotions such as counselling, exercise, massage, kinesiology and acupuncture

  • Manage stress. Try hatha yoga, gentle walking or deep breathing meditation. Getting a handle on stress is crucial for mental health and physical wellbeing.

What about Soy?

There is much debate about the use of soy and its oestrogenic activity within the body. Soy is a phytoestrogen which comes from plants and has an oestrogen like effect in the body. Phytooestrogens which are weak forms of oestrogen are thought to block oestrogen receptors thereby protecting us from the stronger harmful oestrogens that can come from poor oestrogen metabolism in the body, synthetic oestrogens or xenooestrogens from chemicals and plastics. Studies suggest that eating soy products may actually protect us from certain cancers and may also alleviate hormonal imbalance and menopausal symptoms. Interestingly the countries that eat the highest amount of soy and seaweed have the lowest rates of breast cancer. When choosing soy products choose organic non genetically modified products.

Do I need to take supplements?

Nutritional supplements can be beneficial in times of intense stress or poor nutrition to help protect cells and the immune system. Some supplements can interact with certain medications and high dose antioxidants should be avoid during chemotherapy. The antioxidants do such a good job at protecting the cells they could protect the cells from the chemotherapy and lessen the effects of the treatment. Always speak to a health care professional prior to taking any supplements.

If you struggle to get enough antioxidants and fibre into your diet wholefood powders can be extremely beneficial. Unlike supplements which are usually synthetic and thousands of times stronger than the nutrients found in food, wholefood powders contain concentrate nutrients and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables.

I recommend Vita–sol Infinity Wholefood Powder for cell protection and Vita–sol Purity Wholefood Powder to help support liver detoxification which is particularly important for those prone to oestrogen based cancers.

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