Foods to include in an anti-cancer diet

May 07, 2021 | by Doreen Berard, RD, LDN

The idea of foods to fight cancer is all the rage these days, as people look for ways to either protect against the disease or fight it. Research into foods with cancer-fighting properties is ongoing. So what does an anti-cancer diet look like?

No single food by itself can protect you against cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), it is “the synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.”

So rather than focus on any one particular food, make variety your goal. Evidence shows a diet filled with a variety of plant-based foods, such as deeply colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, can help reduce cancer risk.

Plant-based foods are loaded with high quality nutrients such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting properties. These foods are also low in calories and high in fiber, which helps you shed excess body fat and maintain a healthy weight — and, in turn, reduce cancer risk.

To get started on an anti-cancer diet, fill your shopping cart with a variety of:

  • Vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and garlic
  • Fruits – all types of berries (raspberries, blueberries, cherries), papaya, peaches, mango, apricots and grapefruit
  • Whole grains – brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and barley
  • Lean protein – eggs, salmon, turkey, lean beef and chicken, soy, beans, peas, lentils, nuts (walnuts) and seeds
  • Water – eight glasses a day. To switch it up, try green tea.
  • Healthy fats and oils – fish oil, olive oil and flax oil. Avoid saturated fats and processed meats.

For those who are going through cancer treatment, fueling your body with the right nutrients can help boost strength and energy, prevent loss of lean tissue and support the immune system. But some food choices can actually aggravate cancer-related symptoms, so talk with your doctor and dietitian about the right meal plan for you.

When you’re ready to get cooking, the AICR and American Cancer Society offer some healthy and tasty recipes. I made the following recipe for my family and it was a big hit!

Chicken with Spinach and Apple Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 (4-oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 2/3 cup apple cider
  • 1 medium granny smith apple, sliced lengthwise 1/8-inch
  • 1 medium red apple, sliced lengthwise 1/8-inch (e.g., Gala, Fuji or Pink Lady)
  • 8 cups packed fresh baby spinach

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sear chicken, cooking 6-7 minutes on each side until browned. Remove chicken and let sit a few minutes. Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces, cover and set aside to keep warm.

To skillet, add garlic, mustard and cider and stir to combine well. Add apple slices and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Return chicken to skillet. Stir occasionally as sauce thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Add spinach to skillet. Stir until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Learn more about cancer-fighting foods.

Learn more about the cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Doreen Berard, RD, LDN is oncology/wellness dietitian at Edward Cancer Centers.

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