Fruits and veggies are vital
You may know that carotenoids are the compounds that give carrots and other orange foods their color. They’re also potent antioxidants that have strong anticancer properties. You’ll find them in lots of fruits and veggies (sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, pumpkin), which may help explain why plant-based diets tend to be linked to lower rates of cancer. “In studies, people who ate the most vegetables had the lowest risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer,” says Susan Brown, RN, senior director of education and patient support at Susan G. Komen. Just note that the research suggests that veggies have a stronger effect than fruits, so focus your efforts on orange and yellow vegetables for best results. Also, consider eating some other types of produce that help keep cancer at bay.
Whole grains can help
The popularity of low-carb, high-protein diets has made grains an endangered species in the American diet. The fear surrounding gluten hasn’t helped. Whole grains are an important source of cancer-fighting nutrients, including fiber.
“There’s a lot of evidence that fiber fights cancer,” says Robert Segal, MD, founder of Medical Offices of Manhattan. “In populations that have high-fiber diets, colon, stomach, and breast cancers are a lot less common.” And they’re less likely to reoccur when people get plenty from their diet, he says.
It may have something to do with the way fiber alters the effect of hormones like estrogen—which is linked to some types of cancer. Fiber can also bind with certain carcinogenic compounds and help move them out of the body. Most Americans get only a fraction of the 40 grams of fiber they need daily, averaging between 10 and 20 grams a day. Whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa are a great way to reach that quota.
Beans do a body good
Beans are another great source of dietary fiber—plus, they’re rich in antioxidants and protein, which makes them a healthy, low-fat alternative to meat. Research has found that people who eat a lot of meat have a higher risk of developing cancer; subbing in plant-based protein sources like beans may help slash your risk. One 2005 study found that women whose diets included eating beans and lentils at least twice a week had a 24 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them less than once a month. Check out 15 things cancer doctors do to avoid getting cancer.