Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Nutrition to reduce risk

The scientific community is continually studying the role of diet in the development of cancer. Many results are preliminary and more is being learned every day. Research is discovering that intake of fruits, vegetables and cereal grains may interfere with the process of developing cancer of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, prostate and rectum. In addition to reducing the risk of developing cancer, the risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases also might be prevented by eating more fruits and vegetables. There also is evidence that total fat intake of greater than 30 percent of total calories can increase the risk of developing some cancers. This statistic is especially true when total fat intake includes saturated fat and possibly polyunsaturated fat. The Food Guide Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines for Americans and 5 A Day for Better Health Campaign are good sources for nutritional information.

What foods help to reduce cancer risk?

Although further research is needed, preliminary evidence suggests that some components of food may play a role in decreasing the risk of developing cancer, including phytochemicals, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Phytochemicals are compounds that are produced by plants ("phyto" means "plant"). They are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and other plants.

Antioxidants are found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, carrots, mangos, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cantaloupe, oranges, spinach, nuts, lettuce, celery, liver, fish oil, seeds, grains, kale, beets, red peppers, potatoes, blueberries, strawberries and black and green tea. As a rule, dark-colored fruits and vegetables have more antioxidants than other fruits and vegetables.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, walnuts and coldwater fish such as herring, mackerel, sturgeon and anchovies.