The Anti-Cancer Diet

To help prevent cancer add to your diet some of these nutritional powerhouses that have shown promise in the fight against cancer.

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"What you eat and how much you consume makes a difference when it comes to cancer," says Colleen Doyle, R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. The first step: Limit your intake of sweets and unhealthy fats. Focus on the term "occasional treat," with the stress on occasional. Step two: Incorporate the following foods into your everyday meals and snacks; pick at least two a day for a week's worth of protection. They're nutritional powerhouses and have all shown promise in the fight against cancer.

Serving = 1 cup soy milk, 4 ounces tofu, or 1/2 cup shelled edamame
Soy may lower the risk for breast and prostate cancers. You'll get more benefit from whole soy (edamame, tofu and soy milk) than from foods with processed soy protein (energy bars), says Alice Bender, R.D., a dietician with the American Institute for Cancer Research. One caution: Some women with breast cancer should avoid soy—talk with your doctor.

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Serving = 1 cup
Berries contain antioxidants that reduce and repair the kind of damage to cells that can lead to cancer. When they're not in season, choose frozen berries since they're typically just as healthy as fresh.

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Serving = 1 cup
Tea has antioxidants called catechins that may block certain enzymes that lead to cancer. In animal research, stomach, liver and skin tumors shrank in mice fed green or black tea. Steeping tea for at least five minutes releases the most antioxidants.

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Fatty Fish


Serving = 3 ounces
Several studies have indicated that the mega-healthy components of fish—like omega-3 fatty acids—guard against cancer (just as they do against cardiovascular disease), but experts stress that more trials are necessary. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3s.

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Serving = 1 clove or 1 teaspoon minced
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, garlic may lower your risk for colon cancer with compounds that block tumor formation and cancer cell growth in the colon.

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Serving = 1/4 cup
All nuts may prevent cancer. Peanuts in particular have been linked to a lower rate of endometrial and colorectal cancers in women. The protective benefits of nuts most likely come from antioxidant compounds like folic acid and magnesium, according to a research review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Serving = 1 to 2 tablespoons, ground
Researchers say the lignans, compounds that act like antioxidants, in this high-fiber seed may help reduce the growth and spread of breast cancer. Grind flaxseed before eating (or buy ground instead of whole) to better absorb the nutrients.

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Cruciferous Vegetables


Serving = 1/2 cup
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli pack sulfur-containing compounds that may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies have linked them to lower rates of lung, liver, colon, breast and endometrial cancers.

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Sweet Potatoes


Serving = 1 medium potato
Beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives sweet potatoes (as well as carrots, cantaloupe and mangoes) their orange color, may help prevent the damage to cell membranes that leads to cancer.

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Low-Fat Dairy


Serving = 1 cup
In recent research, premenopausal women who had at least one serving a day of low-fat yogurt or milk reduced their breast cancer risk. Most dairy products also contain vitamin D, which has been associated with lower risk for pancreatic and colorectal cancers.

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Serving = 1 cup
Red and purple grapes contain the same disease-fighting compound found in wine—resveratrol—which has been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells and block tumor formation in the liver, stomach and breast. Lycopene, the pigment that gives grapes their color, also boasts cancer-fighting properties.

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Leafy Greens


Serving = 1 to 2 cups raw
Dark green leafy vegetables are loaded with folate, a B vitamin that helps repair damaged DNA that's vulnerable to cancer. Some studies suggest it may guard against GI cancers in particular—and possibly breast cancer too.

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Serving = 1/2 cup cooked
Having meatless meals can slash your risk for cancer, so consider eating more beans (such as black, pinto, lima and kidney) as well as other legumes (like lentils and black-eyed peas). Postmenopausal women whose diets contain lots of beans have lower rates of invasive breast cancer.

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Whole Grains


Serving = 1 slice bread, 1 cup cereal, or 1/2 cup brown rice or pasta
Compared with refined grains (like white bread and regular pasta), whole grains have much more fiber, which may protect against colorectal cancers because it helps move food through your digestive system faster. At least half of your daily grain servings should be whole grains.

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Strive to add cancer-fighting foods to your diet while keeping in mind these daily recommendations:
Every Day Consume at Least:

Originally published in the October 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

  • 3 to 4 servings of whole grains
  • 3 servings of fruit
  • 4 servings of vegetables
  • 8 cups of water