What we eat has a huge impact on our health, even our risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Therefore, an cancer-fighting diet and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial for reducing your risk of cancer. To do so, the Health Promotion Board recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and exercising portion control. 

Of course, no food is guaranteed to protect us against cancer completely, but making good food choices may help reduce our risk of developing cancer as many foods have been shown to contain beneficial compounds that can fight the disease.

Here are some foods to add to your plate, if you haven’t already.


1. Berries


Photo: 123rf


Antioxidant-filled berries of any kind are one of nature’s best superfoods, and arguably the best food that fights cancer. These nutrient powerhouses are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibres. Their antioxidative properties and health benefits make them the top snack to reach for, or a sweet addition to your morning yoghurt.

Berries contain polyphenols, a group of phytochemicals, and two particularly active types of these cancer-fighting compounds that work together are anthocyanins and ellagitannins. Studies have shown that anthocyanins (most present in blackberries) can reduce the risk of colon cancer, and that blueberries have an anti-inflammatory effect that can prevent the growth of breast cancer tumours.


2. Cruciferous vegetables



Photo: 123rf


Dark leafy green vegetables like kale and broccoli contain beneficial nutrients such as manganese, as well as vitamins C and K.

More importantly, cruciferous vegetables also contain sulforaphane, a plant compound that contains anti-cancer properties. 

Sulforaphane has been shown to significantly inhibit the growth of cancer cells and even stimulating the death of colon cancer cells. And when combined with genistein, a compound found in soybeans, sulforaphane can inhibit the development and size of breast cancer tumours, as well as enzymes linked to cancer development. 

Have three to five servings of dark leafy vegetables each week to reap the cancer-preventive benefits.


3. Fatty fish


Photo: 123rf

Fatty, oily fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies is rich in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B and potassium, which can help guard against heart disease and cancer.

A study found that a diet high in freshwater fish can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 53 percent, while another study showed that eating fish oil and fish oil supplements can significantly lower the risk of prostate and colon cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to selectively inhibit the growth of premalignant and malignant cells without affecting the normal cells.


4. Legumes

Photo: 123rf



Legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas are high in fibre, which can help lower the risk of developing cancer. Studies have shown that high legume consumption is linked to a lower risk of breast and colorectal cancer.

Pulses, the seeds of legumes that produce protein, also contain substances that may protect against cancer – for instance, resistant starch (i.e. starch not digested in the small intestine), which is used by healthy bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids that can protect colon cells.


5. Turmeric

Photo: 123rf



The popular spice you find in curry does more than whet your tastebuds. 

Research has shown that countries where people eat more turmeric (100mg to 200mg per day over an extended period of time) see lower rates of certain cancers. This is because curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, can kill cancer cells in certain cancers and prevent more from growing. It inhibits the molecules that cause inflammation by enhancing the activity of an enzyme that helps to detoxify the body and neutralising free radicals that can damage the body.

Turmeric has the best effects on breast, stomach, skin and bowel cancer cells, and is typically consumed a powder, paste or extract. 


6. Nuts



Photo: 123rf



According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, all types of nuts have cancer-fighting properties, but none more so than walnuts and Brazil nuts.

Walnuts contain a substance called pedunculagin, which the body metabolises into urolithins, compounds that bind to estrogen receptors, thus playing a potential role in preventing breast cancer. In one animal study, mice that were fed whole walnuts and walnut oil showed higher levels of tumour-suppressing genes than those that were fed vegetable oil.

Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium, a trace mineral that convinces cancer cells to commit suicide and helps cells repair their DNA. A study also showed that consuming 200 micrograms of selenium every day (equivalent to the amount in two Brazil nuts) leads to significantly reduced prostate tumours, colorectal cancers, lung malignancies, and overall reduction in cancer-related deaths.


7.  Tea


Photo: 123rf




Specifically, green or black tea. Black tea and green tea are made from the same plant, but black tea is made from the fermented leaves of the plant. 

One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women who drink a minimum of two cups of black tea a day have a 32 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer, as compared to those who drink one cup or less daily. Green and black tea contain polyphenols, antioxidative plant compounds that help to kill cancer cells and inhibit their growth or progression, thus preventing various cancers such as breast, colon, ovary, prostate and lung.

Green tea also contains an added antioxidant: epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a catechin that plays a crucial role in cancer prevention.


8. Garlic


Photo: 123rf



Garlic is another superfood you definitely want to add to your list. Not only does it help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it also contains sulphur compounds that can shore up our immune system to fight against cancer, as well as potentially reduce tumour growth. 

Garlic also contain flavonoids (anti-cancer compounds) and allicin, a compound released when garlic is chopped or crushed that contains antimicrobial properties and helps to lower inflammation. Lab studies have also shown that garlic compounds can help to repair DNA, slow the growth of cancer cells and reduce inflammation, a condition that can lead to chronic diseases and cancer.

In general, the family of allium vegetables such as garlic, leeks, onions, chives, shallots scallions can help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.