Foods That Protect Against Cancer

While no single food can singularly prevent cancer, adopting cancer-fighting foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can reduce the risk of developing specific types of cancer.

By URLife Team
03 Feb 2024

According to a 2022 report issued in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, one in nine Indians are likely to develop cancer in their lifetime. In numerous instances, it is suggested that a considerable number of cancer cases can potentially be prevented through lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes. Scientific understanding provides clear guidance on factors to avoid in order to mitigate cancer risk, such as the consumption of red and processed meats, processed or "fast" foods, alcohol, and sugary drinks.


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So, does this mean that eating healthy can eradicate cancer? Regrettably, the reality is that there is no definitive "cancer-fighting" food. No single food has the ability to halt cancer or completely eliminate the risk of developing it. While maintaining a healthy diet can contribute to reducing the risk, it cannot entirely eradicate it. It's essential to approach such claims with a critical mindset, recognizing that a holistic lifestyle, including a balanced diet, remains a crucial component of overall health and cancer prevention.


Related story: 5 Habits That May Increase Cancer Risk


The Link Between Cancer And Food

Indeed, dietary choices play a significant role in influencing health and can impact the risk of developing cancer. According to a 2015 research by the World health Organisation, cold cuts, processed meats, and other preserved meats have been identified as potential contributors to cancer development. The process of preserving these meats often involves the use of nitrites and nitrates, which can form carcinogenic compounds when metabolised in the body. Additionally, high-temperature cooking methods, such as grilling or frying, can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known carcinogens.


While research often establishes associations between specific foods and cancer rather than establishing direct cause-and-effect relationships, certain dietary habits have been identified as influential in cancer risk. As per a 2019 study issued in the journal Nutrients, adopting a traditional Mediterranean diet characterised by the consumption of abundant fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil has been linked to a reduced risk of various common cancers, including breast cancer.


Related story: Does Fasting Help In Protection Against Cancer?


Cancer Fighting Foods

The potency of cancer-fighting foods is prominently found in produce and plant-based items. Specific fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, oats, whole grains, spices, and teas offer distinct benefits that contribute to a reduction in the risks associated with certain cancers. Furthermore, some of these plant-based foods have demonstrated the potential to slow tumour growth and lower the chances of cancer recurrence.


Although specific dietary recommendations may vary based on individual health conditions and risk factors, incorporating certain foods into a balanced and varied diet may contribute to potential cancer-fighting properties. It is crucial to note that no single food can prevent or cure cancer, and these recommendations are part of a broader approach to a healthy lifestyle. 


Here are some foods that have been associated with potential cancer-fighting properties:

Fruits and Vegetables

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, fruits and vegetables may help combat oxidative stress and inflammation, reducing the risk of various cancers. Include a colourful array such as berries, leafy greens, carrots, and cruciferous vegetables.


Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage are noteworthy sources of isothiocyanates, plant compounds known for their role in supporting cellular detoxification and repair processes. These mechanisms are crucial for cancer prevention. Specifically, broccoli sprouts stand out as a rich source of isothiocyanate sulforaphane, a compound associated with enhancing the body's natural defence mechanisms against daily cellular damage. A 2023 research in the journal Molecules has linked sulforaphane to protective effects against various types of cancer, including prostate, breast, bladder, and colorectal cancers.


Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions, classified as Allium vegetables, are recognised for their sulphur compound content. These compounds in garlic and onions may possess protective effects against certain cancers, particularly stomach and colorectal cancer. The sulphur compounds present in these vegetables are thought to contribute to their potential anti-cancer properties, highlighting the importance of incorporating garlic and onions into a well-balanced diet as a potential preventive measure against specific types of cancer.



Berries, including blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are notable for their rich antioxidant content. Antioxidants play a crucial role in potentially reducing the risk of various cancers owing to their anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory effects of antioxidants contribute to the protection of cells from damage, emphasising the inclusion of berries in the diet as part of a broader strategy for cancer risk reduction.



Tomatoes are an anti-carcinogenic food that contains lycopene, an antioxidant associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. A 2022 study in The Journal of Nutrition, established a connection between tomatoes and a reduced risk of prostate cancer, primarily attributed to their high content of lycopene—a potent antioxidant responsible for the red colour of tomatoes. Interestingly, lycopene might be just one among several compounds in tomatoes contributing to their prostate cancer-defensive properties. Notably, processing tomatoes, whether through cutting or cooking, enhances the absorption of lycopene, making it more bioavailable compared to its raw consumption. 


Green Tea

Green tea stands out for its content of polyphenols, particularly catechins, which have been the subject of research regarding their potential anti-cancer effects. Regular consumption of green tea may be associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers. The polyphenols in green tea are believed to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, contributing to its potential role in cancer prevention.


Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat, are rich sources of fibre and various nutrients that play a vital role in supporting digestive health. The consumption of whole grains has been associated with potential benefits in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. The fibre content in whole grains supports digestive processes, emphasising the importance of incorporating these whole grains into the diet as part of a comprehensive strategy for maintaining digestive health and potentially lowering the risk of colorectal cancer.


Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, including species like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are notable for their high content of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids have been associated with potential protective effects against certain cancers, notably breast and prostate cancer. The inclusion of fatty fish in the diet provides a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids, contributing to overall health and potentially lowering the risk of specific types of cancer.



Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound renowned for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics of curcumin make turmeric a subject of interest in regard to cancer prevention. 



Common bean varieties such as black and kidney beans, along with legumes like chickpeas, dry peas, and lentils, are not only rich in protein but also excellent sources of fibre. Fibre plays a crucial role in supporting gut and immune health.


According to a 2022 study issued in the Legume Science, the consumption of fibre has been associated with colorectal cancer prevention. The breakdown of fibre by bacteria in the gut produces fuel for the cells lining the colon, promoting their health and reducing the likelihood of them transforming into cancer cells. 


Nuts and Seeds

In a 2020 study issued by the American Association for Cancer Research, ellagitannins, found abundantly in walnuts, undergo conversion by gut bacteria into metabolites that may delay cancer's ability to grow and multiply. The consumption of tree nuts, with a focus on walnuts, emerges as a beneficial dietary choice associated with potential cancer risk reduction, particularly in the context of digestive system cancers.


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It's essential to maintain a well-balanced diet, stay hydrated, and adopt an overall healthy lifestyle. Additionally, consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalised dietary recommendations based on individual health needs and conditions. Regular medical check-ups and screenings are also crucial for early detection and prevention.




Sravs 10 May 2024


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