By William W. Li, M.D. President and Medical Director The Angiogenesis Foundation
Every week when you shop at the grocery store, you have important choices to make: What are you going to be putting in your body? While taste, calories, and cost are important considerations, here’s another question you should ask: Are the foods you choose cancer fighters?
There are cancer-fighting foods at your grocery store that contain natural substances that work by cutting off the blood supply feeding cancer cells. Without a blood supply, cancers can’t grow. This is called anti-angiogenesis (angiogenesis is the term for the process our bodies use to grow its blood vessels).Tumors can try to hijack our blood vessels, but we can outsmart cancers and beat them to the punch by keeping this from happening.
Let’s walk the main sections of the store, and identify some of the most powerful foods.
The Produce Section
Everyone knows that leafy greens are good for you. And arugula is one of the better choices for health. It contains two cancer fighters called kaempferol and quercetin. Researchers have shown that diets containing arugula can reduce the risk of lung cancer. Arugula is great to use in a salad, or even mixed into hot pasta coming off the boil. You can also arrange it as a bed of tasty greens on which to put other cooked or raw foods. t’s beautiful and healthy.
Tip: Look for baby arugula. The young leaves are sweet and nutty tasting. When the plant gets bigger, the leaves can have a slightly bitter taste.
Fresh fruits are an obvious healthy choice, but did you know that bananas contain cancer fighters? They are called catechins and delphinidin, and studies have shown diets rich in bananas and other fruits can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Tip: Have half a banana a day with breakfast. It’s an easy way to sneak a cancer fighter into your diet, right at the start of each day.
Citrus fruits are also great to start the day. Oranges, tangerines and clementines contain cancer fighters called hesperidin and naringenin. They’re found in the juice, so go ahead and drink refreshing fresh-squeezed citrus juice, which researchers have shown can reduce the risk of esophageal cancer. But, did you know that the cancer fighters are concentrated in the peel, too? One handy tool to have in your kitchen is a zester. Zesting an orange is not only a super way to add flavor to your food anytime of the day, but it’s healthy, too.
Tip: If you are concerned about pesticides that accumulate in the skin of fruit, you might want to buy organic fruits to zest. And always wash the fruit well before zesting it.
Fish and Seafood Section
Yes, salmon is a healthy choice, but if you look carefully at what’s on ice, you’ll find another cancer fighting seafood: Squid. Also called calamari, squid contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are not only heart healthy, but they also are antiangiogenic and can starve cancer cells. Diets high in seafood like squid are known to reduce the risk of breast cancer. While we’ve all enjoyed crispy fried calamari at restaurants, deep frying is not the healthiest way to cook squid, and it loads the dish with calories. The better way is to sauté the squid in a pan. Cook it in a stainless pan, with a little bit of garlic (also contains cancer-fighting alliin) and olive oil (more on this later).
Tip: At the store, ask for the cleaned squid (skin and tentacles removed), so that all you have to do at home is to cut it up into rings. Squid cooks super fast, in just a few minutes.
Olive oil is considered in many parts of the world to be liquid gold. It contains cancer-fighting polyphenols, which actually give the oil its unique taste. The stronger the flavor of the oil, the higher the level of its polyphenols. Store your olive oil in a dark container, because, over time, light degrades the oil, and lowers the polyphenol levels. There are three “super olives” which contain exceptionally high levels of these natural substances: 1) The Picual olive, used in Spanish olive oil; 2) the Moriaolo olive, from Umbria, Italy; and 3) the Koroneiki olive, a Greek olive. If you can find them, get olive oil made with one of these types of olives.
Tip: To find out what kind of olive was used to make the olive, all you have to do is pick up the bottle and look at the label.
The Frozen Food Section
Because some vegetables are not available year-round, the freezer section is a great place to find them. Winter squash is a delicious fall food, and you can buy it frozen, already cut into cubes. Squash contains two cancer fighters, lutein and zeaxanthin. Diets high in squash have been shown to reduce the risk of a cancer of the lymph system called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The good thing about frozen squash is that frozen is just a good as fresh.
Tip: Squash is easy to cook. Simply heat it up, add some cinnamon (a cancer-fighting spice), and serve it as a delicious side dish with any meal. Or, you can purée it and make squash soup.
The Dairy Section
Don’t walk past this aisle thinking that dairy doesn’t have anything to offer for cancer protection. It does: Certain hard cheeses, like Jarslburg, gouda and edam, are made with bacteria that produce a special form of vitamin K called menaquinone, which has cancer-starving properties. Studies from Europe show that eating hard cheeses can reduce the risk of lung cancer. Try Jarsburg: Its buttery, nutty,and tastes a bit like Swiss Cheese. It is great as a snack or in a sandwich.
Tip: Don’t buy too much cheese at once. Get enough for eat over a couple of days. And don’t store the cheese in plastic wrap. Instead, wrap it in some wax or parchment paper and put that in a plastic bag. This will keep the cheese moist without ruining its taste.
Eat to Defeat, a New Way to Fight Cancer
At the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation, we are working to bring this type of practical, lifesaving information to the public through our Eat to Defeat Cancer campaign. To learn more about cancer fighting foods and to get recipes, click here.