Can what you eat protect you against cancer?

Could you protect yourself against cancer by choosing wisely what you put on your plate?

This is the question posed today in the Irish Times Health supplement.  As we are only too aware, there is so much information out there about cancer beating foods, but how much of it is really accurate?

According to consultant surgeon John Reynolds, professor of surgery at Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital, “…if you go looking for information on using food to prevent cancer, many popular books and programmes make scientifically unvalidated claims, he cautions. “There’s a huge amount of nonsense out there that’s based on no science, pseudoscience or wrong interpretation of the existing science.”

So where is the good science? “Societies that eat a lot of fat and a lot of red meat, we know they are the societies where there is a lot of breast, prostate and colon cancer and a certain type of oesophageal cancer, and societies that don’t eat a lot of red meat and fat have lower rates of those cancers,”  Reynolds says.

Overall, the emerging substantiated links between diet and cancer should be taken on board, according to Reynolds. “There’s something there – it would be foolish to ignore it and also foolish to overinterpret it,” he says.

Anti-cancer foods: how they work 

Scientific studies suggest that particular compounds occurring naturally in foods could help prevent or fight cancer. So what should be on the shopping list?

  • Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts): They may not always be the children’s favourite, but the crucifers pack a punch of glucosinolates, which break down in the body to form anti-cancer molecules. Broccoli in particular provides sulphoraphane, which has been shown in the lab to trigger death in cancer cells. Source fresh vegetables, cook lightly and chew well.
  • Turmeric: The spice turmeric, which has been consumed for thousands of years, contains the compound curcumin, which appears to have anti-inflammatory effects and has also been shown to kill cancer cells in the lab. Eat black pepper at the same time, as it improves your ability to absorb curcumin.
  • Green tea: Green tea is a source of catechins, compounds that have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the lab and could help block tumours from building up a blood supply in the body.


Information sourced from Foods to Fight Cancer by Prof Richard Béliveau and Dr Denis Gingras

Adapted from Irish Times Health. To read article in full click here