Cancer is actually a group of diseases, each involving the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Numerous factors are known to increase cancer risks, and we know that factors related to lifestyle are those on which we can have the most influence. These factors even have the potential to turn on and off our genes.
It is eye-opening to consider that, in the United States, an estimated 4 out of 10 men and 3.9 out of 10 women will develop cancer during their lifetime.
Certain dietary patterns are associated with a higher risk of developing cancer (the strongest correlation is with colon cancer). Dietary patterns that emphasize eating a diverse array of fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with lower risk—and can be referred to as a “cancer prevention diet.”
This eating pattern is an important example of how what we eat can have the capacity to harm (i.e., processed meat, highly processed foods, etc.) while also being an opportunity to embrace the concept of “food as medicine” for cancer prevention.
Fruits and vegetables are likely to lower the risk of these cancers:
- Head and neck cancers
- Esophageal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
One study found that individuals who consumed the highest amount of whole foods had an 11%-24% lower risk of death from cancer. Additionally, cancer survivors who consume nutrient-dense whole foods have a 17%-18% lower risk of dying from cancer or other causes.
Eat the Rainbow for More Phytonutrients
Many phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that may support cancer prevention. Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that give them their color, smell, and taste. Antioxidants found in these plants help to neutralize something called “free radicals” so they—the free radicals—don’t cause damage to the body. If you have more free radicals than antioxidants, that’s when damage to cells may occur.
Phytonutrients are most powerful in combination, and there are hundreds to thousands of phytonutrients in each plant that work together to provide the benefits observed. So we recommend eating the rainbow by selecting a diverse array of deeply colored vegetables as a great way to obtain a variety of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Brassica (cruciferous) vegetables contain phytonutrients (including glucosinolates, indoles, isothiocyanates, and flavonoids) that have been studied to potentially prevent oxidative stress. Because these phytonutrients providing antioxidants, they support healthy detoxification and the elimination of estrogen metabolites. This, in turn, may be beneficial for hormonal balance and prevention of estrogen-sensitive cancers; supporting the immune system; decreasing chronic inflammation; reducing the risk of cancers (including lung, colon, pancreatic, breast, bladder, and prostate cancers); and reducing and/or slowing the growth of cancer cells.
We have specially formulated our antioxidant microgreens blend to contain a powerful mix of brassica microgreens. The best thing about microgreens is that, gram for gram, they are more nutrient-dense than their full-grown counterparts and they add amazing flavor to meals.
In addition to antioxidants, nutrients found in vegetables such as carotenoids (which are converted to Vitamin A), vitamins C and E, and selenium may be beneficial for cancer prevention.
Garlic Doesn’t Just Keep Vampires Away: Garlic and Other Herbs and Spices
Garlic, onions, and other alliums can reduce the formation of nitrosamines, which are carcinogens that may affect the colon, liver, and breasts. Chop garlic and onions at least ten minutes prior to cooking to activate allicin and, the more pungent the garlic or onion, the more sulfur compounds it contains, which may help with a cancer prevention diet.
Adding herbs and spices to your meals is a great way to increase flavor and the number of antioxidants you get in a day. Our farm gomasio contains micro herbs as well as sesame seeds, and is an easy way to dress up even the simplest meal.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants called catechins, which may help to prevent cancer by keeping free radicals from damaging cells. In lab studies, catechins may shrink tumors and reduce tumor cell growth. Green tea contains more antioxidants than black tea, but both contain catechins. When shopping for green tea, I recommend purchasing organic Japanese green tea whenever possible.
Fiber and Digestion
Although humans cannot break down fiber, some of the microbes living in our digestive tract can—in varying degrees ferment or metabolize fiber. Eating at least 30 grams or more of dietary fiber daily can have a positive effect on the population of microbes found in the gut and reduce the risk of colon cancer (including colon, gastric, and breast).
When the microbes ferment the fiber (also called prebiotic fiber) within the large bowel they form short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which may keep colon cancer cells from multiplying as quickly.
Consuming more fiber also may lower colorectal cancer risk because it speeds up how quickly what you eat moves through your digestive tract and helps with the elimination of waste and toxins that are secreted into the intestines by way of bile acids.
Eating vegetables and other whole foods high in fiber may also help improve blood sugar balance which is another factor thought to influence the risk of cancer.
To learn more about digestion read our blog Everything Starts In The Gut.
Cooking (boiling) reduces the level of glucosinolates so we recommend that you consume these microgreens and vegetables raw or lightly cooked to obtain the most beneficial nutrients with regard to cancer prevention.
Additionally, chewing helps to break up the cell walls of the brassica vegetables and microgreens which release the enzyme myrosinase. Myrosinase can then come into contact with the glucosinolates changing them into isothiocyanates (like sulforaphane). Your gut bacteria help too, but chewing, chopping, etc. have the greatest impact on increasing sulforaphane (which is one of the most well-known beneficial phytochemicals in brassicas).
Tomatoes and other lycopene-containing vegetables may help protect from DNA damage. Lycopene is best absorbed when tomatoes are cooked prior to consumption (think of the wisdom of cooking pasta sauce for hours on the stovetop)!
Consider consuming plants when possible from root to leaf. Our research laboratory has confirmed that different parts of the plant contain different nutrients. A great example is turnips and beets, both have edible greens which actually contain more minerals than the root. Additionally, broccoli is an excellent example of this, the leaves of the broccoli plant have more nutrients than the head that we most commonly consume, and the stem also is full of beneficial nutrients. By finding ways to enjoy eating the whole plant (when possible) you can reduce waste, save money, and increase the number of nutrients from the plants that you are consuming.
The Farmer as Part of the Healthcare Team
Our goal with Farmacy at the Chef’s Garden is for the farmer to become part of the healthcare team, providing you with the most nutrient-dense, flavorful, deeply nourishing foods possible to help support your health and wellness. We are putting “food as medicine” into practice, making it easy to quickly select vegetables to support your needs through our Health and Wellness Collection pages. We hope you will try our regeneratively farmed, harvested to order, farm-fresh vegetables shipped right to your doorstep and we would love for you to join our Farmacy at the Chef’s Garden family on Facebook!