As an aspiring dietitian, simply telling someone to “Eat your fruits and veggies!” can sound pretty cliché. Although there are many excellent motives to do this (nutrient dense, low in calories, etc.), I want to focus on one very inspiring reason why you should load up on produce – cancer prevention! Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. (after heart disease), and many researchers are saying that over half of all cancers are due to environmental causes (including diet). This might be a scary thought, but the good news is that eating certain foods can help protect our bodies from developing cancer. Enter the colorful fruits and vegetables!
Fruits and veggies are typically packed with vitamins and minerals, which are important for keeping our immune system in tip-top shape (and a healthy immune system is important for resisting cancer). However, they also contain compounds called phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring, biologically active compounds found in plants. There are thousands of different phytochemicals, and they can have significant health benefits, particularly when consumed in whole foods (not supplements). Since different compounds contribute to different colors in plants, this is why it’s so important to consume a colorful variety of fruits and veggies!
Let’s look at some specific foods that are packed with cancer fighting compounds…
- Apples – rich in flavonoids, which may help protect against lung cancer
- Broccoli and cauliflower – contain indoles and isothiocyanates, which may inhibit cancer development
- Oranges (and other citrus fruits) – contain monoterpenes, which may inhibit the growth of cancer
- Dark green leafy vegetables – contain many different carotenoids, which may decrease the risk of cancers affecting the mouth, throat, and lungs
- Grapes – contain resveratrol (a type of polyphenol), a potent antioxidant which can help protect against cancer by preventing cell damage that can contribute to cancer development
- Blueberries – contain many phytochemicals including pterostilbene, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
When adequate in the diet, phytochemicals and nutrients can interact to protect our bodies from cancer. Think SYNERGY here – the best cancer protection seems to come from consuming a variety of plant foods because they contain different compounds that can work together. Are you currently getting plenty of color in your diet? It can be challenging to do this, especially if you tend to eat similar foods every day! If not, the next time you’re in the grocery store, try purchasing a new colored veggie or fruit that your diet lacks. For example, if you don’t get any blue or purple, try blueberries, purple grapes, eggplant, or beets.
Major goal: aim to eat multiple different colors every day – consider red/orange, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white fruits and vegetables. More color = more protection against cancer!
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