5 Foods That May Help Lower Your Cancer Risk
The key thing they have in common: They're cruciferous vegetables
This class of veggies is consistently linked with a lower risk of colon cancer, says Johanna Lampe, PhD, RD, associate division director for the Cancer Prevention Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. As you digest them, compounds called isothiocyanates are formed, which may work against cancer in a number of ways: helping to kick-start the chain of events that leads cancer cells to self-destruct and making it easier for our bodies to process and get rid carcinogens quickly, says Lampe.
The key thing they have in common: Coffee (obviously)
Most of us need coffee in order to function in the morning, and it could contribute to a decreased risk of brain, oral and throat cancer, possibly due to its combination of antioxidants and polyphenols. Consuming 5 or more cups of coffee or tea daily was associated with a lower risk of developing gliomas, or brain tumors, according to an analysis in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Meanwhile, caffeinated coffee, but not tea, was linked to lower risk of mouth and throat cancers in a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology—risk was 49 percent lower for people who drank 4 or more cups per day compared with those who drank it never or just occasionally. (Remember: 1 cup of coffee generally means 6 ounces—the grande you're getting at Starbucks is actually 16 ounces, and a medium iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts is 24 ounces, though that includes ice.)
The key thing they have in common: Calcium
Women with high intakes of total, dietary and supplementary calcium had a 30 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer, according to research on nearly 200,000 women in Archives of Internal Medicine. Colon-cancer risk was roughly 28 percent lower among women getting 800 to 1,000 mg per day compared with those taking in 400 to 500 mg per day, found another study of more than 61,000 women (the calcium RDA for women aged 19 to 50 is 1,000mg; 1,200mg for women 51 and older). Experts aren't exactly sure how calcium may function against cancer, but one possibility is that it helps prevent out-of-control cell division. (Something men should keep in mind, though: There are concerns about high calcium intake and potential increased risk of prostate cancer.)
The key thing they have in common: Garlic
We know it sounds like an old wives' tale to say that garlic helps prevent cancer, but there may be something to it. Research has linked higher intake of garlic and other allium vegetables (like onions) to lower risk of stomach and colon cancer, intestinal cancer, pancreatic cancer and even head and neck cancers. (It may help stop cancer-causing substances from forming in the first place.) It's hard to give a recommendation on how much you should be eating based on research, but following the World Health Organization's guideline of roughly 1 clove per day (for general health) is a good start. If that sounds like a lot of garlic, try adding crushed cloves to a pan of veggies before roasting as a way to ease into it.
The key thing they have in common: Tomatoes
There seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of tomatoes and tomato products (like sauce and paste) you eat and the risk of developing cancers of the lung and stomach, and possibly those of the pancreas, colon and rectum, esophagus, mouth, breast and cervix, too, according to a review of available research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. John Erdman, PhD, a professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois who's studied the role tomatoes may play in reducing prostate-cancer risk in animals, says that while the antioxidant lycopene is probably the most important compound in tomatoes, "It's certainly not the only beneficial one." Erdman says studies suggest that 2 to 4 servings per week may be beneficial.