Cancer Hides, Phytonutrients Seek

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How brightly colored fruits and veggies protect against cancer 

The foods we eat play a significant role in our health. Processed foods often contain additives and are stripped of their nutritive value. Junk foods that contain ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and trans fats promote chronic inflammation and weaken the immune system — factors that allow chronic diseases like cancer to ensue.  

Data show that in 2015 there will be an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer and 589,430 deaths from the disease in the United States. By 2030, cancer, not heart disease, will be the No. 1 killer of Americans. While these facts are grim, it’s also important to understand that this doesn’t have to be the case.

Cancer isn’t smarter; it’s just stealthier. The truth of the matter is that cancer cells lie in our bodies for years waiting for the right conditions for it to grow and spread. How many years? Well, through postmortem studies we know that cancer has been found in the bodies of people in their 20s. So people can be walking around with cancer and don’t even know it until much later in life.

Cancer stem cells remain dormant until the conditions in the body are ideal — preferably when immune system is weak — before it begins to surge. More aggressive forms of cancer cells possess surface markers that render them invisible so they can remain undetected for years. Other cells are even capable of turning off tumor suppressor genes. 

Once cancer cells become active they proliferate. While some cells are benign, other tumors grow and spread to other tissues, a process called metastasis.

To make matters more complex, cancers stem cells may develop resistance to cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.

But we are not defenseless against cancer. Cancer is preventable. In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, an entire chapter is dedicated to chemopreventive approaches through diet and lifestyle. In the book, I explain the crucial role that nutritional epigenetics plays in cancer prevention. Epigenetics is the study of chemical tags called epigenes that modify our DNA in ways that activates or inactivates genes to keep us healthy or make us sick.

So nutritional epigenetics is the way in which our diet impacts our health at the level of our DNA. The bioactive compounds found in wholesome foods affect our epigenes to boost health and thwart disease. When it comes to cancer, there’s a wide array of substances found in various foods that squelch cancer cells.

When you walk through a farmers market or supermarket, those brightly colored fruits and veggies get their hues from powerful phytonutrients that possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that work to prevent cellular damage. Many of those compounds work to inhibit many of the ways in which cancer cells work to proliferate and spread in the body.

Eating a variety of produce daily has been shown to protect against cancer as well as other conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Because there is no specific do-it-all nutrient that fights cancer, consume fruits and vegetables with various colors. These phytocompounds work together to kill cancer cells from the onset by enhancing the immune system.

Here are some fruits and vegetables that you need to include in your diet for cancer prevention.  

Apples are packed with vitamin C, fiber, and quercetin. Quercetin, much of which is contained in the peel, is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant nutrient that helps to fight cancer.

Beets contain betaine a nutrient that block cancer development.

Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a nutrient that inhibits cancer.

Radishes contain anthocyanins and vitamin C — compounds that possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help to prevent cancer.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber. They also contain beta-carotene. Don’t peel off the skin, or you’ll be throwing away thousands of phytochemicals. 

Tomatoes contain lycopene, an anticancer nutrient that promote cancer apoptosis (cell death). Cook whole tomatoes to increase the bioavailability of the healthful nutrients it contains.

Black raspberries are packed with resveratrol, a promoter of cancer cell death.  It also activates hundreds of tumor suppressor genes. Because this fruit isn’t always in season, you can purchase its powdered form too.

Grapes also contain resveratrol. This anti-inflammatory, antioxidant nutrient prevents cancer.

Grapefruit contains loads of vitamin C and detoxifies the body and eliminates cancer-causing substances. 

Watermelon is rich in vitamins A and C and contains more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.  

Photo credit: CDC/Mary Anne Fenley/James Gathany


“Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed August 14, 2015.

 American Society of Clinical Oncology, The State of Cancer Care in America, 2014: A Report by the American Society of Clinical Oncology Accessed August 14, 2015.

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