How a Plant-Based Diet Helps Fight Cancer

The risk factors for developing cancer include age, lifestyle, environment, genetic makeup, and family history. So how can you reduce your cancer risk? You are stuck with your genetic makeup, age, and family history. You may be able to change your environment, but this can be not easy in most cases. Of all these risk factors, lifestyle is the only one you will be likely to lessen.

Lifestyle choices must be addressed to reduce your chances of developing cancer. Smoking tobacco, for example, increases the risk of developing cancer of many types and is responsible for around ONE-THIRD of all cancer deaths. The connection between smoking tobacco and lung cancer is well known; lung cancer arises about 20 times more often in heavy smokers than nonsmokers. SO QUIT SMOKING!

The food you eat every day is a significant lifestyle concern that you can control 100%. Don’t say you can’t. No matter how much money you have or where you live, you have choices you can make. For example:

Limiting the consumption of fast foods and processed foods high in fat, starches, and sugars is something everyone should do for their health in general. Not just to fight cancer. This is a no-brainer, but remarkably many people do not follow this. Either they don’t care, or their busy lifestyle makes it difficult.

Plant-Based Nutrition in Cancer Prevention – Food as Medicine

Have you ever thought about food as medicine, that what you eat actually can fight disease? Have you ever thought about how food affects cancer and how we can fight cancer with our everyday food? You’ve probably heard an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and garlic keeps everybody away! Actually, garlic has many health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to fighting cancer.

Understand that plant-based food is very complex; for example, there are many biologically active substances in one Apple. They have vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, fat, protein, and anti-inflammatory substances. And not only an Apple but also many plant foods, fruits, and vegetables. So, as you eat those every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they provide many beneficial nutrients for you.

One apple can contribute over 700 biologically active substances. The skin of an apple, if you buy organic, has 12 different terpenoids. One is quercetin, a plant pigment (flavonoid) with potent antioxidant properties. Potassium is in the skin of the apple, and apple skin good for the eyes as well.

The foods we eat every day can help reduce the risk of developing chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. If you are unfortunate and have cancer already, it’s not too late to start eating a healthy diet and consuming more known cancer-fighting plant-based foods.

There are many diets proclaimed and followed. Which is the best one depends on your makeup and preferences. It seems inevitable, though, from the extensive research done over the past years that a plant-based diet is superior in cancer-fighting and overall health.

Plant-Based Foods Proven to Have Anti-Cancer Properties

The effects of plant-based nutrition on cancers such as breast, prostate, colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers have been extensively studied. Plant-based diets have been shown to protect against many of the leading causes of death besides cancer.

According to World Cancer Research Fund 1997 populations that have relied on a plant-based diet have a lower risk of certain cancers like breast, colon, lung, and prostate. It was also noted that consuming fruits and green vegetables is associated with reduced breast cancer risk.

Other epidemiological studies (the branch of medical science that investigates all the factors that determine the presence or absence of diseases and disorders) suggest that consuming foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and tea decreases the risk of developing various cancers.

These food items are not only a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but they also contain non-nutritional components known as biologically active phytochemicals. The medicinal properties of these phytochemicals are well recognized. Some of the families of phytochemicals include alkaloids, flavonoids, isoflavones, isothiocyanates, capsaicinoids, and phytosterols.

Phytochemicals well known for their anticancer properties are listed in Table 3. They have been shown to inhibit carcinogenesis through multiple mechanisms that may affect the functions of the immune system, levels of various hormones, the pharmacokinetics (concerned with the movement of drugs within the body), of various chemotherapeutic agents, and the cell cycle.

Some of the plant products that have shown promising results and have been extensively studied are described below:

Table 1. Herbs known for their cancer-preventing properties

Plant family Example
Liliaceae Garlic, Onion, Chive
Labiatae Basil, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Zingiberaceae Turmeric, Ginger
Umbelliferae Anise, Caraway, Celery, Chervil, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Parsley


Table 2. Plant-based food items known to exhibit anticancer properties

Food item Cancer
Soya Prostate cancer

Colon cancer

Lung metastasis of melanoma

Green tea Esophageal cancer

Colon cancer

Skin cancer

Red grapes Skin cancer

Breast cancer

Turmeric Colon cancer


Table 3. Dietary phytochemicals, their sources, and efficacy in cancer

Phytochemical Source Efficacy
Curcumin Turmeric Colon Cancer Pancreatic cancer
Genistein Soy Prostate cancer
Resveratrol Grape, berries Prostate cancer
Allicin Garlic Gastric cancer
Lycopene Tomatoes Prostate cancer
Diosgenin Fenugreek Breast cancer
[6] -Gingerol Ginger Skin cancer
Ellagic acid Berries Pancreatic cancer
Eugenol Clove Melanoma
Isothiocyanates Cruciferous Colorectal cancer
Isoflavones Soy Colon cancer
Phytosterols Vegetable oils, Nuts Legumes Colon, breast, and prostate cancer
Folic acid Leafy vegetables Colorectal and Cervical cancer
Epigallocatechin gallate Green tea Pancreatic cancer


What about meat?

Epidemiological studies have shown that diet and obesity are the cause of a considerable percentage of human cancers. Studies have also provided tremendous support that consuming fresh red meat and processed meat is associated with a higher risk of developing bowel cancer, especially colorectal carcinoma and stomach, pancreas, and prostate cancers.

However, red meat is essential for humans because of high-value proteins, animal fat, and essential micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron, selenium, and zinc. For a diet most effective at reducing cancer risk, the majority should be plant-based foods, following the extensive research done on the cancer-fighting elements of a plant-based diet.

You don’t have to be a total vegetarian. Moderate amounts of meat can be included. It is possible to get all the nutrients needed from a strictly vegetarian diet, but many people are unwilling to go there.

Good Eats

A diet that is excellent for disease prevention and healthy life to old age is the Mediterranean diet. Their diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, beans, and low consumption of red meat. A diet like this is very beneficial to the health of those who follow it.

Although the effects of diet are becoming more well-known and the role of diet and lifestyle factors in health and disease is gaining more attention and emphasis, the benefits or detriments are still underestimated and undervalued.

Nutritional interventions in preventing various cancers offer a significant benefit to currently used medical therapies and should be employed more often as an adjunct to first-line medical therapy. 

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