Anti-Cancer Foods

Hand holding dish of cancer fighting foods, including smoothie, tomatoes, broccoli and blueberries

It’d be great if there was one easy diet we could all eat to eliminate cancer risk. Alas, it’s not that simple. No one food can prevent cancer. It turns out that it’s a combination of what you eat that matters.

Strong evidence shows that if you consume a diet high in a wide variety of plant items (fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains), this is what can help lower the risk for many cancers. Plant foods offer protection by providing phytochemicals (natural plant compounds); antioxidants for repairing DNA and controlling the growth and spread of cancer cells; and vitamins and minerals for producing and repairing DNA and controlling cell growth. Plant foods also contain fiber, which may lower the risk of colon cancer.

And while studies show that many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals exhibit anti-cancer benefits, evidence suggests that it’s the effect of the compounds working together in a person’s overall diet that gives the best cancer protection. So the more colorful your plate of food, the better. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends filling at least two-thirds of it with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. The remaining one-third can be lean poultry or seafood.

Protein from lean meats and seafood can be an important choice in an anti-cancer eating plan because of its satiating properties, which help you feel full longer. This is noteworthy because being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of colon, kidney, breast, esophageal, endometrial, and pancreatic cancers. Excess fat may also trigger inflammation through the body, and this seems to encourage cancer growth, according to Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Cancer-Fighting Foods

  • Beans

    Diets high in beans or lentils can help lower breast cancer recurrence in women.

  • Broccoli

    The phytochemical sulforaphane in this cruciferous veggie appears to slow the growth of leukemia and melanoma.

  • Brown Rice

    A great source of fiber, this whole grain may protect premenopausal women against breast cancer―especially those that are overweight. Whole grain rice fiber may also help reduce colon cancer risk.

  • Cabbage

    Extremely high in anticancer phytochemicals, one of which (indole-3-carbinol) nearly doubles the speed in which the liver can break down estrogen so it doesn’t remain in the body.

  • Dark Chocolate

    This healthy treat is rich in flavonoids, which have chemoprotective effects. The darker the chocolate, the better. It has four times the amount of antioxidants found in tea.

  • Chicken

    Organic, free-range birds are good sources of selenium and niacin, both of which have cancer-preventive qualities.

  • Leeks

    Just like garlic and onions, this vegetable is linked to a reduced risk of prostate and colon cancers.

  • Mushrooms

    Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms all appear to boost the body’s immune system, which can make it potentially more resistant to cancer.

  • Other Foods

    • Apples
    • Berries
    • Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies
    • Cherries
    • Cranberries
    • Dark green, leafy veggies
    • Flaxseed
    • Garlic
    • Grapefruit
    • Grapes
    • Green tea
    • Legumes (dry beans, peas, lentils)
    • Squash (winter)
    • Tomatoes
    • Walnuts
    • Whole grains
Click to See Our Sources

“AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer,” American Institute for Cancer Research,, 4/3/14

The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson ($32.50, Celestial Arts, 2009)

“Expert Q&A: The Anti-Cancer Diet . . .” by R. Morgan Griffin,

Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen by Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott ($22, Running Press, 2012)

Kitchen Tips

Here are some smart tips to follow when making and reheating anti-cancer foods.

  • Use cast-iron or stainless steel pots and pans. Avoid aluminum and nonstick surface cookware.

  • Give cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower a short steam or a quick-dip in boiling water to preserve their crispness and lock in nutrients.

  • Stir-fries are a great way to add a rainbow of colors and flavors to your plate. Saute veggies until they are crisp-tender, and add flavor with herbs, spices, citrus juices, or a splash of vinegar.

  • Reheat food over the stove or in the oven. If you must use a microwave, avoid reheating items in plastic containers. Use glass or ceramic containers only.


Lisa Fabian

Contributing Editor

Lisa Fabian is an award-winning freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in the publishing industry. She's enjoyed covering topics as diverse as arts and crafts, boating, food, and health and wellness.