The 9 most protective foods
You’ve heard it before: For good health, eat a plant-based diet that centers on organic fresh fruits and vegetables and includes whole grains, too. These are, per nature’s design, the most nutrient-rich fuel for your immune system. “Any plant that has been grown outdoors organically is one that has had to fight for its life and develop chemical protections against birds and insects and sunshine,” explains Abrams. “It turns out that those same protections—phytonutrients—are beneficial for us, too.”
When it comes to cancer protection, some fruits and vegetables are better than others. “I encourage people to focus on the three A’s: anti-carcinogens, antiinflammatories and antioxidants,” says Carolyn Katzin, M.S., C.N.S., M.N.T., founder of the Cancer Nutrition Center in Los Angeles. A good (if well-worn) rule of thumb is to choose the most colorful foods, and aim to get a rainbow’s worth of them each day—orange carrots, green grapes, red strawberries, pink watermelon and blueberries. “The pigment is where the antioxidants are,” says Dave Grotto, R.D., author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life (Bantam). So, stock up on brightly colored produce as well as these cancer-fighting powerfoods:
1. Barley “The fiber content of many whole grains can block the actions of some carcinogens and promote cell differentiation, making it easier for the body to know which cells to target for apoptosis,” says Grotto. Whole oats, corn and brown rice are all good sources, but barley is best.
2. Black beans All beans are a good source of fiber, but black beans stand out because of the high antioxidant content in their skin. “Black beans may also block the circulation of estrodiol, a form of estrogen that’s a problem for those at risk for estrogen-driven breast cancer,” says Grotto. The resistant starch found in the beans is thought to mimic estrogen enough to attach to estrogen-receptor sites, allowing excessive and harmful forms of estrogen to pass through the body.
3. Black raspberries All berries are good for cancer prevention, but black raspberries are the best. They contain a lot of A’s: antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic compounds, plus a fourth A that gives them an edge: anthocyanin. “Black raspberries contain a unique form of anthocyanin that has been strongly linked with reduced rates of cancers of the upper respiratory system and digestive tract,” Katzin says.
4. Broccoli “Broccoli has more than 300 studies to back its efficacy,” says Grotto. The vegetable is among nature’s richest sources of sulforophane, a compound that’s thought to strongly inhibit cancers. Research suggests that sulforophanes stimulate the body’s own cancer-fighting enzymes, slowing the rate of breast and prostate cancer cell growth.