We know what's bad and we know what's good, but what's best when it comes to cancer and disease fighting foods-take a guess? Is it spinach? Black berries? Tomatoes? Mint?
"It has a photochemical that is really good at turning the master cancer cell off," said Rebecca Katz, M.S., Nutritional Educator.
Rebecca Katz is the executive chef in residence and nutritional educator at one of the country's leading cancer wellness centers- she uses food to maximize cancer treatments, minimize side effects and improve outcomes.
"You can create an environment in your body with the food that you eat to create what we call an inhospitable environment for cancer cells to grow."
What are her top three picks?
"Cabbage and broccoli and cauliflower, all of these are the cruciferous vegetables, they are full of a gazillion phytochemicals."
Mary McCue was given a breast cancer diagnosis four years ago.
"It was detected very early. I didn't have a lump …just tiny nodules," said Mary McCue.
After 23 biopsies, she had her left breast removed-the cancer changed her life - but Mary changed her lifestyle.
"I took out sugars. I learned very quickly that's an inflammatory. And that's not good for people who have cancer."
Other top cancer fighting foods-carrots contain a substance called falcarinol that reduces the risk of cancer. Chili peppers and jalapenos are full of capsaicin that helps neutralize cancer-causing substances. Garlic has immune-enhancing compounds,
Grapefruits contain monoterpenes that sweep carcinogens out of the body. Kale has nitrogen compounds that stop the conversion of some lesions into cancerous cells and mushrooms have a protein called lectin that attacks cancerous cells and stops them from multiplying. And eating just one serving of watermelon or pink grapefruit a day can reduce a man's risk of developing prostate cancer by 82 percent.
"We make a really healthy connection to food, we make a really healthy connection to life."
And eating the right foods could be the key to surviving whatever ails you.
"I was 56 when I was diagnosed and I felt like I was going on 70. Now I feel like I'm 40. I know I don't look it, but I have that energy."
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BACKGROUND: According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related. What you eat can hurt you, but it can also help you. Certain foods have antioxidants that neutralize the damage caused by free radicals to the powerful phytochemicals that scientists are just beginning to explore. There isn't a single element in a particular food that does all the work. The best thing to do is eat a variety of foods.
TIPS: Research shows that fruits and vegetables, especially richly colored varieties, can reduce the risk of cancer. The raw vegetables are more beneficial. There are many ways to add plant-based foods to your diet. A nice visual reminder is to aim for a plate of food that is filled at least two-thirds with whole grains, vegetables, beans, or fruit. Dairy products, fish, and meat should take up no more than a third of the plate. Keep in mind that you don’t need to go completely vegetarian. Instead, focus on adding “whole” foods, which are foods close to their original form. Eat an apple instead of drinking a glass of apple juice. Or enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with raisins instead of an oatmeal raisin cookie. (SOURCE: helpguide.org)
HOW TO INCORPORATE: Incorporating cancer-fighting foods into your diet might be difficult if they aren’t foods you usually eat. At breakfast add fruit and a few seeds or nuts to your whole grain breakfast cereal (oatmeal). For lunch eat a big salad filled with beans and peas or other combo of veggies. Make sure to order lettuce and tomato on your sandwiches and whole grain bread. Have a side of veggies like cut up carrots, sauerkraut or a piece of fruit. When you want a snack, opt for fresh fruit and vegetables. Raw veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, jicama, peppers, etc. are great with a low-fat dip such as hummus. Keep trail mix made with nuts, seeds and a little dried fruit on hand. At dinner add fresh or frozen veggies to your favorite pasta sauce or rice dish. Top a baked potato with broccoli and yogurt, sautéed veggies, or with salsa. Replace creamy pasta sauces, with sautéed vegetables or tomato sauce made with olive oil. And for desert choose fruit instead of a richer dessert, or a single square of dark chocolate. (SOURCE: helpguide.org)
IMPORTANCE OF FIBER: Another very important cancer fighting food tip is to increase your fiber intake. Fiber plays a key role in keeping your digestive system clean and healthy. It helps keep food moving through your digestive tract and it also moves cancer-causing compounds out before they can create harm. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber. There is no fiber in meat, dairy, sugar, or “white” foods like white bread, white rice, and pastries. (SOURCE: helpguide.org)
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author of The ‘Cancer-Fighting Kitchen’