I am often asked for my list of the best foods to eat — the foods that contain the most micronutrients, phytochemicals and other health-promoting compounds. People want to know which high-nutrient foods provide the keys to optimum health and longevity. They are searching for a simple answer to the question, “What should I eat to reach my ideal weight, achieve immunity to disease and feel my best every day?”
It is difficult to squeeze all the nutrient dense, health promoting foods into a list of the ten best. The foods on my list however, are the foods that I believe everyone should include in their diet on a regular basis. They are strongly cancer-protective and longevity-favorable. They contain the most vitamins and minerals and powerful phytochemicals including allium compounds, glucosinolates, aromatase inhibitors, flavonoids and lignans. Of course not all of my favorites could make my top ten and the runners-up include many other vegetables and fruits.
Ten Best Foods
Green Leafy Vegetables
(e.g. kale, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce)
- Twenty-eight servings of vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 33%, but just 3 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 41%.2
- One or more servings of cabbage per week reduced risk of pancreatic cancer by 38%.3
- One serving per day of cruciferous vegetables reduced the risk of breast cancer by over 50%.4
Anti-Cancer Foods: Cruciferous Vegetables
Nutrition scientists have shown over and over that people who eat more natural plant foods – vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. – are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer. But are all vegetables equally protective? To win the war on cancer, we must design an anti-cancer diet, which focuses on the foods with themost powerful anti-cancer effects – then we could eat plenty of these foods each day, flooding our bodies with the protective substances contained within them.
The cruciferous family of vegetables is full of super foods with powerful anti-cancer effects – we should eat vegetables from this family every day. This family includes green vegetables like kale and bok choy plus some non-green vegetables like cauliflower. For a full list of cruciferous vegetables, click here.
Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates and in a different area of the cell, an enzyme called myrosinase. When we blend, chop or chew these vegetables, we break up the plant cells, allowing myrosinase to come into contact with glucosinolates, initiating a chemical reaction that produces isothiocyanates (ITCs) – powerful anti-cancer compounds. ITCs have been shown to detoxify and remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing.1
Observational studies have shown that eating ITC-rich cruciferous vegetables protects against cancer – here are a few examples:
Cruciferous vegetables and breast cancer
Cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful for preventing hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer, because some ITC, such as indole-3-carbinol (abundant in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage), can even help the body excrete estrogen and other hormones.5 In fact, new research has shown additional anti-estrogenic effects of both indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane (most abundant in broccoli); these ITCs blunt the growth-promoting effects of estrogen on breast and cervical cancer cells.5-7
Eating cruciferous vegetables produces measurable isothiocyanates in breast tissue8, and observational studies show that women who eat more cruciferous vegetables are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer: In a recent Chinese study, women who regularly ate one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables had a 50% reduced risk of breast cancer.4 A 17% decrease in breast cancer risk was found in a European study for consuming cruciferous vegetables at least once a week.9 Plus, breast cancer survivors who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly have lower risk of cancer recurrence – the more cruciferous vegetables they ate, the lower their risk.10
Within an overall nutrient-dense eating style, cruciferous vegetables can provide us with a profound level of protection against cancer. Don’t forget: chopping, chewing, blending, or juicing cruciferous vegetables is necessary to produce the anti-cancer ITCs. To learn more about cruciferous vegetables, read Healthy Times Newsletter #32.
1. Higdon J, Delage B, Williams D, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacol Res 2007;55:224-236.
2. Cohen JH, Kristal AR, Stanford JL. Fruit and vegetable intakes and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst 2000;92:61-68.
3. Larsson SC, Hakansson N, Naslund I, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption in relation to pancreatic cancer risk: a prospective study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15:301-305.
4. Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, et al. Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;125:181-188.
5. Yuan F, Chen DZ, Liu K, et al. Anti-estrogenic activities of indole-3-carbinol in cervical cells: implication for prevention of cervical cancer. Anticancer Res 1999;19:1673-1680.
6. Meng Q, Yuan F, Goldberg ID, et al. Indole-3-carbinol is a negative regulator of estrogen receptor-alpha signaling in human tumor cells. J Nutr 2000;130:2927-2931.
7. Ramirez MC, Singletary K. Regulation of estrogen receptor alpha expression in human breast cancer cells by sulforaphane.The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 2009;20:195-201.
8. Cornblatt BS, Ye L, Dinkova-Kostova AT, et al. Preclinical and clinical evaluation of sulforaphane for chemoprevention in the breast. Carcinogenesis 2007;28:1485-1490.
9. Bosetti C, Filomeno M, Riso P, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. Ann Oncol2012.
10. Nechuta SJ, Lu W, Cai H, et al: Cruciferous Vegetable Intake After Diagnosis of Breast Cancer and Survival: a Report From the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. Abstract #LB-322. In Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2012 Mar 31-Apr 4. Chicago, Il; 2012.
Non Leafy Cruciferous Vegetables
(e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)
Cancer Alert: Your Best Defense – Go Cruciferous
We may not have eaten so healthfully our entire lives. We may have a family history of breast, prostate or colon cancer. What should we do? Just wait until cancer is found?
Getting medical screenings is certainly a personal decision, but if we really want to win the war against cancer, we must improve the nutritional quality of our diet. We have all heard about the antioxidant effects our bodies derive from the phytochemicals in plant foods. However, the unique phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables offer superior benefits. Cruciferous vegetables contain phytochemicals that have unique abilities to modify human hormones, detoxify compounds, and prevent toxic compounds from binding to human DNA, preventing toxins from causing DNA damage that could lead to cancer. Studies have even shown that genetic defects that may lead to cancer are suppressed by the consumption of green cruciferous vegetables.
Certainly, many studies have shown that eating fresh fruits, beans, vegetables, seeds, and nuts reduces the occurrence of cancer. I plotted cancer incidence in 25 countries against unrefined plant food intake and found that as vegetables, beans, and fruit consumption goes up 20% in a population, cancer rates typically drop 20%. But cruciferous vegetables are different; they have been shown to be twice as effective. As cruciferous vegetable intake goes up 20%, in a population, cancer rates drop 40%.
- bok choy
- broccoli rabe
- brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- red cabbage
- turnip greens
Dr. Fuhrman shares the nutritional science that supports the importance of greens in your diet
Include them in both raw and cooked forms and eat a variety of them. These benefits cannot be duplicated by taking any one pre-formed compound or supplement.
The evidence is now overwhelming that cruciferous vegetables play a major and unique role in the widely recognized protective effects of natural plant foods against cancer—and are the most important players in this arena. The biologically active compounds from raw and conservatively cooked green vegetables enhance the natural defenses of the human body against DNA damage and they even fuel the body’s ability to block growth and replication of cells that are already damaged. For those in the know, these foods are the most important nutritional factors to prevent common human cancers.
Read more about Cruciferous Vegetables – what they are and how they benefit us along with the studies that support these claims – in Dr. Fuhrman’s July 2007 Healthy Times Newsletter plus get great-tasting cruciferous-rich recipes!
Michaud DS, Spiegelman D, Clinton SK. Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of bladder cancer in a male prospective cohort. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999; 91(7):605-13.
Link LB, Potter JD. Raw versus cooked vegetables and cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13(9):1422-35.
Miller AB. Nutritional aspects of human carcinogenesis. IARC Sci Publ 1982;(39):177-92.
Higdon JV, Delage B, Williams DE, Dashwood RH. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologicevidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacol Res. 2007; 55(3):224-36.
Steinmetz KA, Potter JD. Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review. J Am Diet Assoc 1996 Oct;96(10):1027-1039.
Lee SA, Fowke JH, Lu W. Cruciferous vegetables, the GSTP1 Ile105Val genetic polymorphism, and breast cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008; 87(3):753-60.
Rose P, Huang Q, Ong CN, Whiteman M. Broccoli and watercress suppress matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity and invasiveness of human MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2005(10);S0041-008X.
Johnston N. Sulforaphane halts breast cancer cell growth. Drug Discov Today 2004;9(21):908.
Srivastava SK, Xiao D, Lew KL, et al. Allyl isothiocyanate, a constituent of cruciferous vegetables, inhibits growth of PC-3 human prostate cancer xenografts in vivo. Carcinogenesis 2003 Oct;24(10):1665-1670.
Finley JW. The antioxidant responsive element (ARE) may explain the protective effects of cruciferous vegetables on cancer. Nutr Rev 2003 Jul;61(7):250-254.
Seow A, Yuan JM, Sun CL, et al. Dietary isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase polymorphisms and colorectal cancer risk in the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Carcinogenesis 2002 Dec;23(12):2055-2061
Berries and their Flavonoids Protect the Heart
Berries are one of my super foods — the second B in G-BOMBS — rich in fiber and phytochemicals and low in calories, giving them the highest Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scores of all fruits. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are vibrantly colored with antioxidant phytochemicals, and they are some of the highest antioxidant foods in existence. The deep red, blue and purple pigments of berries are produced by flavonoid antioxidant molecules called anthocyanins, which are concentrated in the skins of the fruits.1 Flavonoids, including anthocyanins, are not merely antioxidants; they are thought to have a number of additional beneficial effects in the body that are unrelated to their antioxidant capacity. As such, several studies have shown that high flavonoid intake is associated with considerable risk reductions (up to 45%) for coronary heart disease.2-5
Recent research highlights the cardioprotective properties of berries
A 2011 study investigated berry consumption in relation to risk for elevated blood pressure. Compared to eating no blueberries, just one serving per week decreased the risk of hypertension by 10%.6,7 New findings published in January 2013 from the Nurses’ Health Study support these results with data in younger women (age 25-42 at the start) who were followed for 18 years. In these women, three or more weekly servings of blueberries or strawberries was linked to a 34% reduced risk of heart attack compared to lower intake of berries.8
How do berries and their colorful anthocyanins protect the heart and blood vessels?
Studies using berries or berry phytochemicals in human participants or on human cells have uncovered some of the possible protective actions of berries on the cardiovascular system. Berry flavonoids seem to act in several different ways to maintain heart health. In human subjects, researchers found that berries mitigated oxidative stress, decreased oxidation of LDL (which helps to prevent the production of atherosclerotic plaque), increased blood antioxidant capacity, and in some cases improved lipid levels, blood pressure or blood glucose. Higher anthocyanin and berry intake is associated with reduced C-reactive protein (CRP), suggesting that berries may curb inflammation; additional studies have confirmed that berries have anti-inflammatory properties. Berry phytochemicals also may enhance nitric oxide production in the blood vessels, which helps to properly regulate blood pressure.1,9-12
Why not amplify these benefits by eating berries every day?
If observational studies showed a 10% decrease in hypertension risk for one serving of blueberries per week, and a 34% reduced risk of heart attack from 3 servings of berries per week, imagine the protection that is possible when you eat berries every day! Even during winter, we can get our daily dose of anthocyanins from frozen berries. Also remember that in addition to promoting heart health, berries also have anti-cancer effects and provide protection against diabetes and dementia.13-16
1. Erdman JW, Jr., Balentine D, Arab L, et al: Flavonoids and heart health: proceedings of the ILSI North America Flavonoids Workshop, May 31-June 1, 2005, Washington, DC. The Journal of nutrition 2007, 137:718S-737S.
2. Huxley RR, Neil HA: The relation between dietary flavonol intake and coronary heart disease mortality: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 2003, 57:904-908.
3. Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, et al: Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2002, 76:560-568.
4. Mursu J, Voutilainen S, Nurmi T, et al: Flavonoid intake and the risk of ischaemic stroke and CVD mortality in middle-aged Finnish men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The British journal of nutrition 2008, 100:890-895.
5. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, et al: Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2007, 85:895-909.
6. Cassidy A, O’Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al: Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2011, 93:338-347.
7. Bioactive Compounds in Berries Can Reduce High Blood Pressure. In ScienceDaily; 2011.
8. Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, et al: High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation 2013, 127:188-196.
9. Galleano M, Pechanova O, Fraga CG: Hypertension, nitric oxide, oxidants, and dietary plant polyphenols.Current pharmaceutical biotechnology 2010, 11:837-848.
10. Basu A, Rhone M, Lyons TJ: Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutr Rev 2010, 68:168-177.
11. Chong MF, Macdonald R, Lovegrove JA: Fruit polyphenols and CVD risk: a review of human intervention studies. The British journal of nutrition 2010, 104 Suppl 3:S28-39.
12. Basu A, Du M, Leyva MJ, et al: Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr 2010, 140:1582-1587.
13. Stoner GD: Foodstuffs for preventing cancer: the preclinical and clinical development of berries. Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 2009, 2:187-194.
14. Stoner GD, Wang LS, Casto BC: Laboratory and clinical studies of cancer chemoprevention by antioxidants in berries. Carcinogenesis 2008, 29:1665-1674.
15. Wedick NM, Pan A, Cassidy A, et al: Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:925-933.
16. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, et al: Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol 2012.
Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the United States, and it is the 2nd most deadly cancer.1 Proper nutrition can dramatically cut colon cancer risk. Numerous studies have found beans to significantly decrease the risk of colon cancer.2,3,4 A six year study tracking over 32,000 individuals found that those who ate beans, peas, or lentils more than twice a week decreased their risk of colon cancer by 50%.5 If they cut their chance of colon cancer in half by eating beans just a few times a week, imagine the benefit of eating beans daily!
Beans’ unique composition makes them a dietary wonder. Beans are rich in fiber and resistant starch and are not easily broken down by enzymes in the small intestine. They pass into the large intestine where bacteria ferment them into short chain fatty acids such as butyrate.6 Butyrate protects against colon cancer in many different ways:
- Butyrate halts cancer cell growth and causes cancer cell death.7
- Butyrate increases the expression of detoxifying enzymes and limits DNA damage due to oxidative stress.8
- Butyrate inhibits tumors from acquiring a blood supply.7
- Butyrate has anti-inflammatory affects.7
I recommend people eat some beans every day. Not only do they protect against colon cancer, they stabilize blood sugar and help you feel full. There are a variety of beans to choose from: chickpeas, black-eyed peas, black beans, lima beans, pinto beans, lentils, red kidney beans, cannellini beans and many more. They can be flavored and spiced in lots of interesting ways. Add beans to soups, salads, dips, burgers, or explore the Recipe Guide on our Member Center for various recipes.
1. CDC. “Colorectal Cancer Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control. November 2010.http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/statistics/index.htm (accessed February 2011).
2. Aune D, De Stefani E, Ronco A, et al. Legume intake and the risk of cancer: a multisite case-control study in Uruguay. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Nov;20(9):1605-15.
3. Agurs-Collins T, Smoot D, Afful J, et al. Legume intake and reduced colorectal adenoma risk in African-Americans. J Natl Black Nurses Assoc. 2006 Dec;17(2):6-12.
4. Lanza E, Hartman TJ, Albert PS, et al. High dry bean intake and reduced risk of advanced colorectal adenoma recurrence among participants in the polyp prevention trial. J Nutr. 2006 Jul;136(7):1896-903.
5. Singh, P.N., and G.E. Fraser. 1998. Dietary risk factors for colon cancer in a low-risk population. Am J Epidem. 148: 761-74.
6. Faris MA, Takruri HR, Shomaf MS, Bustani YK. Chemopreventive effect of raw and cooked lentils (Lens culinaris L) and soybeans (Glycine max) against azoxymethane-induced aberrant crypt foci. Nutr Res. 2009 May;29(5):355-62.
7. Williams EA, Coxhead JM, Mathers JC. Anti-cancer effects of butyrate: use of micro-array technology to investigate mechanisms. Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Feb;62(1):107-15.
8. Hamer HM, Jonkers D, Venema K, et al. Review article: the role of butyrate on colonic function. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Jan 15;27(2):104-19.
Mushrooms support the immune system
Mushrooms contain specialized lectins (ABL) that recognize cancer cells, and prevent the cells from growing and dividing.1,2 Mushroom phytochemicals enhance the activity of natural killer cells, which are specialized immune cells that attack and destroy virus-infected and cancerous cells.3
Mushrooms are unique in their breast cancer preventing (anti-aromatase) effects
Frequent consumption of mushrooms (approximately 1 button mushroom per day) has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 64%.4 Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast cancer particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen. Mushrooms are one of the very few foods that inhibit aromatase (pomegranate is another), and several varieties of mushrooms, especially the commonly eaten white button and portobello mushrooms, have strong anti-aromatase activity.5
Mushrooms protect against all cancers
Consumption of mushrooms does not only protect against breast cancer. In addition to anti-aromatase activity, white, cremini, portobello, oyster, maitake, and reishi mushrooms have all been shown to have a wide variety of anti-cancer properties. These effects have been studied in relation to stomach, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.6-14
Mushrooms add unique flavors and textures to vegetable dishes, and are delicious paired with fresh herbs. Combining mushrooms with the onion family, green and cruciferous vegetables, and beans, creates delicious, healthful, and powerfully protective meals. Remember that mushrooms should only be eaten cooked: several raw culinary mushrooms contain a potentially carcinogenic substance called agaritine, and cooking mushrooms significantly reduces their agaritine content.15,16
I discuss the unique health benefits of mushrooms in detail in my book Super Immunity. For an extra immune boost from ten different mushrooms not often available to include in your diet, try my immune support supplement Immunotect™.
1. Yu L, Fernig DG, Smith JA, et al. Reversible inhibition of proliferation of epithelial cell lines by Agaricus bisporus (edible mushroom) lectin. Cancer Res 1993;53:4627-4632.
2. Carrizo ME, Capaldi S, Perduca M, et al. The antineoplastic lectin of the common edible mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has two binding sites, each specific for a different configuration at a single epimeric hydroxyl. The Journal of biological chemistry 2005;280:10614-10623.
3. Borchers AT, Krishnamurthy A, Keen CL, et al. The Immunobiology of Mushrooms. Exp Biol Med 2008;233:259-276.
4. Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, et al. Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;124:1404-1408.
5. Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC, et al. White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation. The Journal of nutrition 2001;131:3288-3293.
6. Hara M, Hanaoka T, Kobayashi M, et al. Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan. Nutr Cancer 2003;46:138-147.
7. Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, et al. Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;125:181-188.
8. Martin KR, Brophy SK. Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Exp Biol Med 2010;235:1306-1314.
9. Fang N, Li Q, Yu S, et al. Inhibition of growth and induction of apoptosis in human cancer cell lines by an ethyl acetate fraction from shiitake mushrooms. J Altern Complement Med 2006;12:125-132.
10. Ng ML, Yap AT. Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). J Altern Complement Med 2002;8:581-589.
11. Adams LS, Phung S, Wu X, et al. White button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) exhibits antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties and inhibits prostate tumor growth in athymic mice. Nutr Cancer 2008;60:744-756.
12. Lakshmi B, Ajith TA, Sheena N, et al. Antiperoxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antimutagenic activities of ethanol extract of the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum occurring in South India. Teratog Carcinog Mutagen 2003;Suppl 1:85-97.
13. Cao QZ, Lin ZB. Antitumor and anti-angiogenic activity of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides peptide. Acta pharmacologica Sinica 2004;25:833-838.
14. Lin ZB, Zhang HN. Anti-tumor and immunoregulatory activities of Ganoderma lucidum and its possible mechanisms.Acta pharmacologica Sinica 2004;25:1387-1395.
15. Toth B, Erickson J: Cancer induction in mice by feeding of the uncooked cultivated mushroom of commerce Agaricus bisporus. Cancer Res 1986;46:4007-4011.
16. Schulzova V, Hajslova J, Peroutka R, et al: Influence of storage and household processing on the agaritine content of the cultivated Agaricus mushroom. Food Addit Contam 2002;19:853-862.
The Allium family of vegetables includes onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots, and scallions. Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption ofAllium vegetables is associated with decreased risk of several cancers. For example, one large European study found striking risk reductions in the participants who consumed the greatest quantities of onions or garlic for oral, esophageal, colorectal, laryngeal, breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. A fifty-five to eighty percent reduction of almost all major cancers. Amazing!1
Anti-cancer effects of onions and garlic
Allium vegetables are rich in cancer-fighting organosulfur compounds, which are produced when the cell walls of the vegetables are broken down by chopping, crushing, or chewing. These compounds are thought to be mostly responsible for the cancer-protective effects of Allium vegetables. In scientific studies, organosulfur compounds prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens and halting cancer cell growth. These garlic and onion phytochemicals are also anti-angiogenic, which means that they can prevent tumors from obtaining a blood supply to fuel their growth.2 In studies of breast cancer cells, garlic and onion phytochemicals have caused cell death or halted cell division, preventing the cancer cells from multiplying.3-5
Onions, garlic, and their family members also contain flavonoids and phenols. White onions are not as rich in these antioxidant compounds as yellow and red, and shallots are especially high in polyphenol levels. Red onions are particularly rich in anthocyanins (also abundant in berries) and quercetin.6Flavonoids such as quercetin can contribute to preventing damaged cells from advancing to cancer, and also have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention.7-10
Onions and the other vegetables of the Allium family can be added to any and every vegetable dish for great flavor and anti-cancer benefits. Remember that they must be eaten raw and chewed well or chopped finely before cooking to initiate the chemical reaction that forms the protective sulfur compounds. When you cut onions and your eyes begin to tear, they are creating the anti-cancer sulfur compounds.
How to cut an onion to maximize anti-cancer compounds and minimize eye irritation:
- Make sure that the onion is cold before you cut it. Even putting the onion in the freezer for 5 minutes is sufficient.
- You can use a fan to blow the gaseous compounds away from you if you like.
- Cut the end of the root off with the root facing away from you, preserving as much of the onion adjacent to the root as possible. The root is the part of the onion with the highest concentration of these anti-cancer compounds.
- Make sure to then cut or chop the onion finely, slice thinly, or put it in a food processor before adding to your soup, salad, or vegetable dish to maximize the production of sulfur compounds.
I discuss the anti-cancer effects of onions, garlic and their family members in detail in my most recent book, Super Immunity.
1. Galeone C, Pelucchi C, Levi F, et al. Onion and garlic use and human cancer. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:1027-1032.
2. Powolny A, Singh S. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett 2008;269:305-314.
3. Modem S, Dicarlo SE, Reddy TR. Fresh Garlic Extract Induces Growth Arrest and Morphological Differentiation of MCF7 Breast Cancer Cells. Genes Cancer 2012;3:177-186.
4. Na HK, Kim EH, Choi MA, et al. Diallyl trisulfide induces apoptosis in human breast cancer cells through ROS-mediated activation of JNK and AP-1. Biochem Pharmacol 2012.
5. Malki A, El-Saadani M, Sultan AS. Garlic constituent diallyl trisulfide induced apoptosis in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Cancer Biol Ther 2009;8:2175-2185.
6. Slimestad R, Fossen T, Vagen IM. Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. J Agric Food Chem 2007;55:10067-10080.
7. Ravasco P, Aranha MM, Borralho PM, et al. Colorectal cancer: can nutrients modulate NF-kappaB and apoptosis? Clin Nutr 2010;29:42-46.
8. Miyamoto S, Yasui Y, Ohigashi H, et al. Dietary flavonoids suppress azoxymethane-induced colonic preneoplastic lesions in male C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. Chem Biol Interact 2010;183:276-283.
9. Shan BE, Wang MX, Li RQ. Quercetin inhibit human SW480 colon cancer growth in association with inhibition of cyclin D1 and survivin expression through Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway. Cancer Invest 2009;27:604-612.
10. Pierini R, Gee JM, Belshaw NJ, et al. Flavonoids and intestinal cancers. Br J Nutr 2008;99 E Suppl 1:ES53-59.
(e.g. flax, chia, hemp, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
(e.g. walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, cashews)
Tomatoes Protect Against Heart Attack and Stroke
Carotenoids are a family of over six hundred phytochemicals, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are abundant in green and yellow-orange vegetables and fruits and help to defend the body’s tissues against oxidative damage, which is a natural byproduct of our metabolic processes; oxidative damage from free radicals contributes to chronic diseases and aging.1
The levels of carotenoids in your skin are a good indicator of your overall health because the levels parallel the levels of plant-derived phytochemicals in general. In fact, I use a carotenoid skin testing method to non-invasively track my patients’ progress as they adopt a nutritarian diet. In a study of over 13,000 American adults, low blood levels of carotenoids were found to be a predictor of earlier death. Lower total carotenoids, alpha-carotene, and lycopene in the blood were all linked to increased risk of death from all causes; of all the carotenoids, very low blood lycopene was the strongest predictor of mortality.2
Lycopene is the signature carotenoid of the tomato. The lycopene in the American diet is 85 percent derived from tomatoes.3 Lycopene is found circulating in the blood and also concentrates in the male reproductive system, hence its protective effects against prostate cancer.4 In the skin, lycopene helps to prevent UV damage from the sun, protecting against skin cancer.5 Lycopene is known for its anti-cancer properties, but did you know that lycopene has also been intensively studied for its beneficial cardiovascular effects?
Links between blood lycopene and cardiovascular diseases
Many observational studies have made a connection between higher blood lycopene and lower risk of heart attack. For example, a study in men found that low serum lycopene was associated with increased plaque in the carotid artery and triple the risk of cardiovascular events compared to higher levels. Triple!6-8 In a separate study, women were split into four groups (quartiles) according to their blood lycopene levels; women in the top three quartiles were 50% less likely to have cardiovascular disease compared to the lowest quartile.9
A 2004 analysis from the Physicians’ Health Study data found a 39% decrease in stroke risk in men with the highest blood levels of lycopene.10 New data from an ongoing study in Finland has strengthened these findings with similar results. One-thousand men had their blood carotenoid levels tested and were followed for 12 years. Those with the highest lycopene levels had the lowest risk of stroke — they were 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest lycopene levels.11 Previous data from this same group of men found that higher lycopene levels were associated with lower risk of heart attack as well.12
How does lycopene work?
Lycopene is an extremely potent antioxidant; several studies that gave supplemental tomato products to volunteers found that their LDL particles were more resistant to oxidation — LDL oxidation is an early event in atherosclerotic plaque formation, and lycopene helps to prevent this.13-15 Another study found improved endothelial function after just two weeks of a tomato-rich diet; endothelial function refers to the ability of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels) to properly regulate blood pressure, and oxidative damage can impair endothelial function.16
Lycopene also has non-antioxidant actions that may protect against cardiovascular disease. First, there is evidence that lycopene may inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme responsible for making cholesterol (also the enzyme that is inhibited by cholesterol-lowering statin drugs).17 So as you might expect, trials that added extra tomato products to subjects’ diets reduced their blood cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis of 12 trials found that daily supplemental tomato products (approximately 1 cup of tomato juice or 3-4 tbsp. of tomato paste) reduced LDL cholesterol by 10% — this effect is comparable to low doses of statin drugs (with no risk of side effects, of course).18 Lycopene also has several anti-inflammatory actions and may prevent excessive proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells, which is a contributor to atherosclerotic plaque development.19,20
Enjoy your tomatoes!
Of course, lycopene is not the only nutrient in tomatoes — tomatoes are also rich in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and flavonol antioxidants just to name a few.3 Single antioxidants usually don’t exert their protective effects alone; we learned this lesson from clinical trials of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E supplements, which did not reduce cardiovascular disease risk.21 It is the interactions between phytochemicals in the complex synergistic network contained in plant foods that is responsible for their health effects, and this is something that we cannot replicate in a pill. Out of all the common dietary carotenoids, lycopene has the most potent antioxidant power, but combinations of carotenoids are even more effective than any single carotenoid — they work synergistically.22 Blood lycopene, as used in many of these studies, is simply a marker for high tomato product intake; similarly high alpha-carotene and beta-carotene levels are markers of high green and yellow-orange fruit and vegetable intake. Colorful fruits and vegetables provide significant protection.
In a given year, a typical American will eat about 92 pounds of tomatoes.23 Enjoy those 92 pounds and even add some more! Add fresh, juicy raw tomatoes to your salad, diced or unsulfured sun-dried tomatoes to soups, and enjoy homemade tomato sauces and soups. Be mindful of the sodium content of ketchup and other tomato products — choose the low sodium or no salt added versions. No salt added, unsulfured dried tomatoes are also great. Also keep in mind that carotenoids are absorbed best when accompanied by healthy fats — for example, in a salad with a seed or nut-based dressing.24,25Lycopene is also more absorbable when tomatoes are cooked — one cup of tomato sauce contains about ten times the lycopene as a cup of raw, chopped tomatoes — so enjoy a variety of both raw and cooked tomatoes in your daily diet.26,27
1. Krinsky NI, Johnson EJ. Carotenoid actions and their relation to health and disease. Mol Aspects Med2005;26:459-516.
2. Shardell MD, Alley DE, Hicks GE, et al. Low-serum carotenoid concentrations and carotenoid interactions predict mortality in US adults: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Nutr Res2011;31:178-189.
3. Canene-Adams K, Campbell JK, Zaripheh S, et al. The tomato as a functional food. J Nutr 2005;135:1226-1230.
4. van Breemen RB, Pajkovic N. Multitargeted therapy of cancer by lycopene. Cancer Lett 2008;269:339-351.
5. Rizwan M, Rodriguez-Blanco I, Harbottle A, et al. Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol 2010.
6. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al. Low serum lycopene concentration is associated with an excess incidence of acute coronary events and stroke: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr 2001;85:749-754.
7. Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al. Lycopene, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227:900-907.
8. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al. Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:133-138.
9. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Norkus EP, et al. Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, and retinol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:47-53.
10. Hak AE, Ma J, Powell CB, et al. Prospective study of plasma carotenoids and tocopherols in relation to risk of ischemic stroke. Stroke 2004;35:1584-1588.
11. Karppi J, Laukkanen JA, Sivenius J, et al. Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men: A population-based follow-up study. Neurology 2012;79:1540-1547.
12. Karppi J, Laukkanen JA, Makikallio TH, et al. Low serum lycopene and beta-carotene increase risk of acute myocardial infarction in men. Eur J Public Health 2011.
13. Silaste ML, Alfthan G, Aro A, et al. Tomato juice decreases LDL cholesterol levels and increases LDL resistance to oxidation. Br J Nutr 2007;98:1251-1258.
14. Burton-Freeman B, Talbot J, Park E, et al. Protective activity of processed tomato products on postprandial oxidation and inflammation: a clinical trial in healthy weight men and women. Molecular nutrition & food research 2012;56:622-631.
15. Hadley CW, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. The consumption of processed tomato products enhances plasma lycopene concentrations in association with a reduced lipoprotein sensitivity to oxidative damage. J Nutr2003;133:727-732.
16. Xaplanteris P, Vlachopoulos C, Pietri P, et al. Tomato paste supplementation improves endothelial dynamics and reduces plasma total oxidative status in healthy subjects. Nutr Res 2012;32:390-394.
17. Lycopene. Monograph. Altern Med Rev 2003;8:336-342.
18. Ried K, Fakler P. Protective effect of lycopene on serum cholesterol and blood pressure: Meta-analyses of intervention trials. Maturitas 2011;68:299-310.
19. Palozza P, Parrone N, Catalano A, et al. Tomato lycopene and inflammatory cascade: basic interactions and clinical implications. Curr Med Chem 2010;17:2547-2563.
20. Palozza P, Parrone N, Simone RE, et al. Lycopene in atherosclerosis prevention: an integrated scheme of the potential mechanisms of action from cell culture studies. Arch Biochem Biophys 2010;504:26-33.
21. Kris-Etherton PM, Lichtenstein AH, Howard BV, et al. Antioxidant vitamin supplements and cardiovascular disease. Circulation 2004;110:637-641.
22. Heber D, Lu QY. Overview of mechanisms of action of lycopene. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227:920-923.
23. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. [http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system.aspx]
24. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr2004;80:396-403.
25. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, et al. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Molecular nutrition & food research 2012;56:866-877.
26. van het Hof KH, de Boer BC, Tijburg LB, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability in humans from tomatoes processed in different ways determined from the carotenoid response in the triglyceride-rich lipoprotein fraction of plasma after a single consumption and in plasma after four days of consumption. J Nutr2000;130:1189-1196.
27. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference [http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list]
One of the oldest known fruits, found in writings and artifacts of many cultures and religions, the pomegranate (punica granatum) is an original native of Persia. This nutrient dense, antioxidant rich fruit has been revered as a symbol of health, fertility and eternal life.
If you’re not familiar with the pomegranate, it is a red fruit with a tough outer layer; only the juice and the seeds inside are edible. Pomegranate juice is available year round, but you can purchase fresh pomegranates in most grocery stores from September through January. When refrigerated in a plastic bag, pomegranates keep for up to 2 months. Try tossing the seeds on a salad for a brilliantly colorful, crunchy, and nutritious addition.
Seeding a pomegranate may seem like a lot of work for just a piece of fruit but think again. getting at those seeds may be well worth it. The pomegranate is a nutrient dense food source rich in phytochemical compounds. Pomegranates contain high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, potent antioxidants offering protection against heart disease and cancer. A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, blueberries, and cranberries.
Amazing Clinical Results
This fantastic little fruit recently made its way back into the news after some spectacular clinical results. Here’s what you need to know:
Compounds found only in pomegranates called punicalagins are shown to benefit the heart and blood vessels. Punicalagins are the major component responsible for pomegranate’s antioxidant and health benefits. They not only lower cholesterol, but also lower blood pressure and increase the speed at which heart blockages (atherosclerosis) melt away.
Recent medical research studied heart patients with severe carotid artery blockages. They were given an ounce of pomegranate juice each day for a year. Not only did study participants’ blood pressure lower by over 12 percent, but there was a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque. Just as astounding, participants who did not take the pomegranate juice saw their atherosclerotic plaque increase by 9 percent.1
In other studies, potent antioxidant compounds found in pomegranates have shown to reduce platelet aggregation and naturally lower blood pressure, factors that prevent both heart attacks and strokes.2
Not only are pomegranates good for your heart and blood vessels but they have been shown to inhibit breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia and to prevent vascular changes that promote tumor growth in lab animals.3 Several in vitro studies have shown this remarkable anti-cancer effect. Additional studies and clinical trials currently taking place are hopeful to reveal this fascinating effect on humans.
Also of note, pomegranate juice contains phytochemical compounds that stimulate serotonin and estrogen receptors, improving symptoms of depression and increasing bone mass in lab animals. 4
Many studies show that the pomegranate is one of the most powerful, nutrient dense foods for overall good health. These clinical findings clearly show a correlation between pomegranate compounds and their positive effect on both human and animal cardiovascular, nervous, and skeletal health. This is one fruit that you can’t afford to exclude from your diet!
A Proven Supplement
Dr. Fuhrman recommends that all patients who have heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure as well as those who are looking to prevent these ailments incorporate the powerful components of pomegranates into their diet. He developed a unique supplement, LDL Protect to do just that.
All pomegranate extracts are not equal. Dr. Fuhrman’s LDL Protect uses the highest grade and potency of pomegranate extract available. Some less costly grades are not certified to contain high levels of active polyphenols. The pomegranate extract used in LDL Protect contains the full array of polyphenols present in the fruit’s seeds, husk and juice and is particularly rich in punicalagins. LDL Protect delivers the potent synergistic effects that have been observed in natural spectrum extracts of pomegranate. 5
For those who still have LDL cholesterol above 100 mg/dl after dietary intervention, Dr. Fuhrman designed this mixture of high quality, cholesterol-lowering and cardiac protective compounds – plant sterols and pomegranate. No other product on the market offers this combination of ingredients. LDL Protect is an all natural, high quality formula that is both effective and safe.
1. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004;23(3):423-33.
2. Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation:studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(5):1062-76. Aviram M, Dornfeld L. Pomeganate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin coverting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure. Atherosclerosis 2001;158(1):195-8.
3. Kim ND, Mehta R, Yu W, et al. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2002;71(3):203-17. Kohno H, Suzuki R, Yasui Y, et al. Pomegranate seed oil rich in conjugated linolenic acid suppresses chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.Cancer Sci 2004;95(6):481-6.
Toi M, Bando H, Ramachandran C, et al. Preliminary studies on the anti-angiogenic potential of pomegranate fractions in vitro and in vivo. Angiogenesis 2003;6(2):121-8.
Kawaii S, Lansky EP. Differentiation-promoting activity of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells. J Med Food 2004;7(1):13-8.
4. Mori-Okamoto J, Otawara-Hamamoto Y, Yamato H, Yoshimura H. Pomegranate extract improves a depressive state and bone properties in menopausal syndrome model ovariectomized mice. J Ethnopharmacol 2004;92(1):93-101.
It is almost just as challenging to take all the bad foods in the world and condense them down to the worst of the worst. Foods have the power to heal but also have the power to harm. Our leading causes of death, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are primarily the result of the foods we eat. The wrong foods can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol and can cause us to lead lives that provide only a fraction of our potential for health, energy level and physiological well-being.
Foods such as dairy and other animal products are rich in substances that scientific investigations have shown to be associated with cancer and heart disease incidence: animal protein, saturated fat, cholesterol and arachidonic acid.1 The high animal protein content of dairy increases levels of IGF-1 in the blood, which increases cancer risk. The combination of dairy with insulin-raising sugars is even more dangerous when it comes to cancer risk.2 Processed foods containing refined white sugar, refined white flour, salt and oil comprise over 60 percent of the calories in the American diet3 but provide little if any of the antioxidant nutrients or phytochemicals that are essential for preventing chronic disease and premature death. Salt consumption has been linked to both stomach cancer and hypertension.4 Needless to say, I advise people to avoid the foods on my “worst” list entirely.
Ten Worst Foods
- Sweetened Dairy Products (e.g. ice cream, low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt)
- Trans Fat Containing Foods (e.g. stick margarine, shortening, fast foods, commercial baked goods)
- Sausage, Hot Dogs, and Luncheon Meats
- Smoked Meat, Barbecued Meat and Conventionally-Raised Red Meat
- Fried Foods including Potato Chips and French Fries
- Highly-salted Foods
- Refined White Sugar
- Refined White Flour
It is clear that unrefined plant foods should make up the bulk of your diet and that fruits and vegetables score highest on the nutrient density scale in terms of concentration of nutrients per calorie. It is also obvious to anyone who has studied the research and looked at the trends in recent years, that a diet based on refined processed foods and animal products cannot sustain optimum health and protection against disease.
1. Campbell TC, Junshi C. Diet and chronic degenerative diseases: perspective from China. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59(suppl 5):-S1153-61; Singh PN, Sabate J, Fraser GE. Does low meat consumption increase life expectance in humans? Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(suppl 3):S526-32; Fraiser, GE. Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-Day Adventists. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70 (suppl 3):S532-38.
2. Kaaks R. Nutrition, insulin, IGF-1 metabolism and cancer risk: a summary of epidemiological evidence. Novartis Found Symp 2004;262:247-260; discussion 260-268.
Qin LQ, He K, Xu JY. Milk consumption and circulating insulin-like growth factor-I level: a systematic literature review. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2009;60 Suppl 7:330-340.
3. USDA Economics Research Service, 2005, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Date/Food Consumption/FoodGuideIndex.htm3calories
4. Tsugane S, Sasazuki S. Diet and the risk of gastric cancer. Gastric Cancer 2007;10(2):75-83; Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Ngianga-Bakwin K, Cappucio FP. Salt Intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies BMJ. 2009;339:b4567.