Foods That Help Fight Cancer

When it comes to cancer prevention, there are no magic pills. But a healthy diet and lifestyle can help you fight cancer and reduce your overall risk of cancer, says Alice Pereira, a registered dietitian at Baptist Health South Florida.

“It’s important to have an overall healthy balanced diet. For cancer prevention, we emphasize a plant-based diet,” says Ms. Pereira, who is a clinical nutrition specialist for Cancer Patient Support Services at Miami Cancer Institute.

The Role of Antioxidants

Diets filled with fruits and vegetables offer a full plate of phytochemicals (a class of nutrients that occur naturally in plants), vitamins and minerals, all which can act as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the cellular processes of the body and help your body fight inflammation. (Smoking, stress and other environmental factors also cause inflammation, which has been linked to cancer.)

The list of antioxidants includes:
• Vitamin C.
• Vitamin E.
• Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, and vitamin A.
• Selenium.
• Zinc.
• Other phytochemicals like indole-3-carbinol (found in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts); allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic); flavonoids (fruits, teas) and polyphenols (teas, grapes).

“The body uses certain compounds in foods and chemicals made in the body, called antioxidants, to help protect against damage to tissues that happens constantly as a result of normal metabolism (oxidation). Because such damage is linked with increased cancer risk, some antioxidants may help protect against cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

Diet, for example, plays an important role in the risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to a recent study.
Consumption of red meat — especially processed meat — has been linked to an elevated risk of colorectal cancer. Now, there’s more evidence that skipping red meat altogether can pay major health benefits. The study tracked nearly 78,000 participants — men and women of different races — in 48 states.

“Vegetarian diets were associated with an overall reduced risk of colorectal cancer,” the study reported. “Compared with nonvegetarians, vegetarians had a 22 percent lower risk for all colorectal cancers, 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer,” according to a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a publication from the American Medical Association.

When it comes to other forms of cancer, The American Cancer Society highlights the benefits of a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods and a limited consumption of red meat.

Here are a few menu options:


“We recommend all kinds of beans,  especially black beans, which are high in antioxidants,” says Ms. Pereira. Other favorites include split peas and garbanzo beans.

Dietitians praise beans for several reasons. The health benefits of beans include:
• High fiber.
• Low fat.
• High protein.
• Low glycemic.


You are what you eat, according to an old saying that applies perfectly to meals filled with fruits and vegetables. A plant-based diet offers several healthy nutrients, including antioxidants, which protect plants from the sun.
“All vegetables are helpful, so don’t get caught focusing on just one item,” Ms. Pereira says.

She gives high grades to all vegetables, especially cruciferous veggies like kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Those vegetables possess beta carotene, folate and vitamin C, which are nutrients proven to help reduce the risk of cancer and the spread of cancer for those who have the disease.

White vegetables include garlic and onions, which add much more than flavor to food. Research shows that garlic and onions, especially when crushed, help fight infection and some diseases, including stomach, colon or prostrate cancer.


All kinds of fruits offer healthy doses of nutrients. Berries — blueberries, strawberries, blackberries — are packed with antioxidants. Grapes are high in resveratrol, a compound that helps plants fight off bacteria and other harmful elements.

Fish and Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that protect the body from inflammation. Different types of fish offer omega-3 fatty acids, Ms. Pereira says.

Here is a list.
• Sardine: This small fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, with only limited amounts of mercury, a potentially harmful chemical.
• Salmon: Select wild salmon because farm-raised salmon can possibly be contaminated with harmful chemicals.
• Spanish mackerel.
• Tuna: Limit your consumption to two times a week because tuna is a huge fish that could contain large amounts of mercury.
• Anchovies.


Whole grains are an important part of a plant-based diet.

“We want the whole grain. The outer layer is high in micro-minerals, including cooper, zinc and magnesium,” Ms. Pereira says.

Whole grains include:
• Brown rice.
• Quinoa (a low-fat, high-protein source of fiber).
• Barley.
• Millet.
• Farro.

Key minerals and nutrients are lost when a whole grain is refined. Whole grains are also high in fiber and a high-fiber diet is good for gastro health and your immune system, Ms. Pereira says.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

Language Preference / Preferencia de idioma

I want to see the site in English

Continue In English

Quiero ver el sitio en Español

Continuar en español