3 Cancer-Fighting Foods You Should Be Eating (But Probably Haven't Heard Of)
Cancer cells are distorted versions of healthy cells. Knowing this, we can focus on feeding the body the nutrients that support healthy cellular function. The fastest way to promote healing is to put a high number of nutritious compounds into the body so it has what it needs to kill aggressive cancer cells. Superfoods—foods rich in compounds that are considered especially beneficial for our health and well-being—are much more powerful than cancer. These foods, which are the foundation of my new book Cancer-Free With Food, might be able to prevent cancer cells from forming and slow the growth of existing tumors.
Broccoli sprouts are incredibly potent killers of cancer cells because of their unusually high sulforaphane content. Sulforaphane is also found in broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. But broccoli sprouts contain the most of any other vegetable on the planet.
Paul Talalay, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has done research for 25 years on vegetable compounds, is a major advocate of broccoli sprouts. He says: "Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads and may offer a simple dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk." In 1992, Talalay and his research team found that sulforaphane has the ability to reinforce the body's natural defenses against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage. Over the years, many studies by other researchers have supported Talalay's conclusions. One by Jed Fahey, Sc.D., director of the Cullman Chemoprotection Center at Johns Hopkins University, proved that broccoli sprouts provide "dramatic protection" against digestive issues, including stomach cancer, ulcers, gastritis, and overgrowths of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium "strongly associated with inflammation related to digestive cancers."
During an experiment involving 48 patients with H. pylori infections in which half the volunteers ate 2.5 ounces of broccoli sprouts per day for two months and half ate the equivalent amount of alfalfa sprouts, which do not contain sulforaphane, biomarkers of infection dropped for the volunteers eating the broccoli sprouts.
Cacao is the main ingredient in pure chocolate before it is made into heat-processed cocoa powder. Because of the heat, cocoa does not have as many nutrients as raw cacao powder. Raw cacao powder is very high in nutrients and minerals.
Cacao is incredibly high in magnesium, a mineral that relaxes our muscles and eases pain in the body; it's no wonder that we crave chocolate! Cacao contains polyphenolic compounds that are highly beneficial to our health. It has also been proved by the science community to be an anti-inflammatory with anti-tumor activities. Cacao has been shown to have many potential anticancer compounds because of its high antioxidant count (40 times that of blueberries!). It has the ability to reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of obesity, and improve cardiovascular circulation.
The physiological effects of caffeine and theobromine, the most abundant methylxanthines in cacao, are notable. Theobromine is a heart stimulant and vasodilator—meaning, it widens blood vessels. It is used to treat high blood pressure and is also a diuretic. All these benefits assist in keeping the body in a state less hospitable to cancer. A study showed that theobromine might be extremely effective in preventing human glioblastoma, brain tumors.
Caffeine from tea or coffee helps increase stamina and focus and has a positive effect on memory, which can help you if you are experiencing "chemo brain," the foggy thinking that is a side effect of chemotherapy. It also has many other known health benefits (as long as it is consumed in moderation) and has been observed to decrease the risk of certain cancers, including endometrial cancer.
These health-promoting benefits are so remarkable that chocolate is being explored as a functional food, useful for improving cardiovascular health. Research is currently being done on the effects of cacao on aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis. It appears to have the potential for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease-related hypercoagulation due to hypercholesterolemia. One study revealed that cacao can help with a significant reduction of body weight and body mass index (BMI). Along with a lower rate of obesity comes a lower risk of developing cancer.
Researchers investigating colitis-associated cancer found that a cacao treatment reduced inflammation, increased enzyme activity, and upped the presence of antioxidants. Although not definitive yet, the results suggest that cacao may prevent the development of colon cancer in humans.
Patients with inflammatory bowel disease are at risk for developing ulcerative colitis—associated with colorectal cancer. However, another study of mice found that cacao significantly decreased tumor incidence and size. In addition to inhibiting proliferation of tumor epithelial cells, the findings also demonstrated that a cacao-rich diet suppresses the formation and growth of tumors.
Tigernuts are something I started to incorporate on a daily basis. They aren't nuts, Tigernuts are a vegetable—a tuber. It is called a tiger "nut" simply because of its appearance. (Once you see one, you'll know what I mean.) Tigernut is a vegetable our ancestors discovered a long time ago and would have relied on as a source of iron and prebiotic starch. A prebiotic starch is a substance that promotes health by encouraging the growth of probiotics, which are "friendly" gut flora (bacteria) such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Believe it or not, tigernut has the same amount of iron as red meat. Because tigernut is such an excellent source of iron, it is a vegetarian's best friend! People are just learning about tigernuts as they begin to surface in the mainstream. Every household should be stocked with tigernuts, tigernut flour, and tigernut milk because of their incredible health benefits, which include their anticancer properties.
One of my favorite root vegetables, tigernuts are high in fiber and resistant starch. Resistant starch has a similar physiologic effect as dietary fiber and can function as a mild laxative. Tigernuts are a viscous starch.
It's easy to grow your own tigernuts. When you purchase a bag of them, simply plant some in soil and water them every couple of days. Soon you will start to see grass-like shoots come up, and after about a month, you can pull a whole cluster of new tigernuts up. These low-maintenance plants grow like weeds, independently, without pesticides.
Eating tigernuts is good for the environment as well as your body. Tigernut milk can be made simply by tossing a quarter cup of tigernuts in four cups of water and giving them a spin in a blender. By contrast, almond trees require a lot of water and are often farmed using pesticides. Plus, store-bought almond milk is often pasteurized, which changes its nutritional value. Tigernut milk is naturally sweet—no cane sugar is generally added to the store-bought variety, like it is to many brands of nut milk.
One study showed that tigernut milk can be useful for preventing liver damage from the pain reliever acetaminophen! Researchers concluded that the phytochemicals in tigernut milk significantly prevented liver injury. So drink tigernut milk for its liver-protecting properties during chemotherapy, when your liver is in danger of being overwhelmed with toxins.
I am grateful to be cancer-free for 10 years now, which is why I have dedicated my life to sharing these healing foods with the world. I've been there and suffered, and it's one of the most awful things anyone can endure. If I were diagnosed with cancer today, the first thing I would do is commit to eating a majority whole-food, plant-based diet as much as possible, incorporating fruits, nuts, seeds, organic dairy, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, and herbal remedies. We never go wrong by adding nutrient-rich foods to our diets.
And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.