Path to Health: 11 Cancer-Fighting Foods

Contact Us

(608) 262-WELL (9355)

More Information

UW Department of
Family Medicine: Integrative Health


Read testimonials from people who have been in our programs

Say the word “cancer” and a myriad of fears, anxieties, and foreboding arises. And yet, according to the American Cancer Society, as many as one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States could be prevented if citizens ate a healthy, balanced diet that emphasized plant foods and maintained a healthy weight.


Let's take a look at a list of 11 potential cancer-fighting foods compiled by the Stanford Health Improvement Program and the YMCA.


1. Beans. Beans contain a number of phytochemicals, which have been shown to prevent or slow genetic damage to cells. While this makes beans beneficial for helping to reduce your risk of many types of cancer, specific research has suggested they are especially potent in preventing prostate cancer. As an added bonus, the high fiber content of beans has been connected with a lower risk of digestive cancers.


Blueberries and strawberries both have cancer-fighting compounds.2. Berries. The two most widely studied cancer-fighting compounds in berries are ellagic acid (richest in strawberries and raspberries) and anthocyanosides (richest in blueberries). Ellagic acid is believed to help prevent skin, bladder, lung and breast cancers, both by acting as an antioxidant and by slowing the reproduction of cancer cells. The anthocyanosides in blueberries are currently the most powerful antioxidants known to scientists and are beneficial in the prevention of all types of cancer.


3. Cruciferous Vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, are rich in a variety of compounds that have been shown to slow cancer growth and development in a number of laboratory studies. Other larger human studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables can help to reduce the risk of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate and bladder cancers.


4. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables. Leafy, green vegetables, such as like romaine lettuce, mustard greens, chicory, and Swiss chard, are rich sources of antioxidants called carotenoids. These compounds scavenge dangerous free radicals from the body before they can promote cancer growth. The vegetables also are rich in folate, a vitamin shown to reduce the risk of lung and breast cancer.


5. Flaxseed. Flaxseed, in the form of oil and meal, contains phytoestrogens believed to reduce the risk of breast, skin, and lung cancer. Research on the potency of flaxseed as an anti-cancer food is still underway.


6. Garlic. Garlic, along with onions, scallions, leeks and chives, contains a number of compounds believed to slow or stop the growth of tumors. One such compound, diallyl disulfide, appears to be especially potent in protecting against skin, colon and lung cancer, though it is not known exactly how it functions.


7. Grapes. Grapes and wine contain a chemical called resveratrol, which has been shown to be a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Resveratrol is thought to work by preventing cell damage before it begins. Red and purple grapes are the richest sources of resveratrol.


8. Green Tea (decaffeinated). Green tea is a rich source of a class of flavonoids known as catechins. Laboratory studies have shown that the catechins present in green tea are able to slow or prevent the development of cancer in colon, liver, breast, and prostate cells.

Whole grains contain fiber, antioxidants and phystoestrogens.


9. Soy. Soy is rich in isoflavones, compounds that have been shown to protect against cancers of the bladder, cervix, lung and stomach. Soy also contains components that resemble some of the body’s natural hormones. These components might be beneficial in preventing breast and prostate cancers.


10. Tomatoes. The anti-cancer compound in tomatoes, lycopene, has been shown to be especially potent in combating prostate cancer. This compound appears to be more easily absorbed if the tomatoes are eaten in processed form, such as tomato sauce, paste or juice. In addition to preventing prostate cancer, lycopene also might protect against breast, lung, stomach and pancreatic cancer.


11. Whole Grains. Whole grains contain a variety of anti-cancer compounds, including fiber, antioxidants and phytoestrogens. When eaten as part of a balanced diet, whole grains can help decrease the risk of developing most types of cancer.