You hear the lofty claims all the time: “Eating citrus (or tomatoes, or broccoli, or fill in the blank food) can help slash your risk of cancer!” And while it all sounds enticing, you’re smart enough to know that no food can work its magic in isolation, and that subsisting on grapefruit will only make you hangry.
So how can someone actually lower their cancer risk through food? Consider checking out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) brand new Cancer Defence Diet, which helps put the confusing nutrition research into real-world context by highlighting the best foods, food combinations, serving sizes, and cooking methods to keep your risk of cancer as low as possible—all based on current reputable research, not random one-off studies.
On this new online hub you'll find things like a list of key cancer-fighting nutrients and tips on how to prep your food in a way that boosts their bioavailability (e.g. cook your tomatoes to boost their lycopene content). It also features a Cancer Defence Food Groups chart highlighting unconventional food groups like “red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables” and “alliums,” which are chock full of anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting phytochemicals such as anthocyanin antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds.
There's a nutrition calculator, too, which helps you estimate your intake of phytochemicals. (Apparently, I get more than enough orange and red-hued fruits and veggies, but I’m lacking in the greens and plant protein department—definitely a wake up call!)
While all of this information in once place is extremely useful, it can still feel a tad overwhelming. So to make it even more digestible, we asked the EWG’s resident nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, RD, to spell out exactly what a day of healthy eating (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks) would look like if someone were to follow this Cancer Defence Diet. Here are her recommendations:
Cancer-Fighting Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with diced red or orange veggies (tomatoes, carrots, or bell peppers) and chopped dark greens (spinach or broccoli); plus a side of fruit (grapefruit, cantaloupe, or blackberries)
Plant-Based Option: Oatmeal with fresh in-season fruit (nectarines or cranberries) and nuts (walnuts or sliced almonds)
Pro Tip: Increase the absorption of beneficial carotenoid compounds found in red and orange veggies and dark greens by mixing in a little fat, says Undurraga. Just a teaspoon of olive oil or a tablespoon of shredded cheese will do the trick.
Cancer-Fighting Lunch: Fish tacos in a corn tortilla with grilled low mercury fish (trout or cod) and crunchy peanut slaw with cabbage or bok choy, snow peas, and green onions; plus a side of fruit (orange, watermelon, or blueberries)
Plant-Based Option: Crunchy peanut slaw with cabbage or bok choy, snow peas, crushed peanuts or sunflower seeds, cilantro, and green onions; plus a side of fruit
Pro Tip: Increase your phytochemical variety by using purple cabbage, a good source of the anthocyanin antioxidants as well as the isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and bok choy, Undurraga says.
Cancer-Fighting Dinner: Lentil soup with onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes, dark greens (spinach or kale), black pepper, and various spices; plus a side of fruit
Pro Tip: A compound called piperine in black pepper may help increase the bioavailability of the carotenoids in veggies, so be sure to sprinkle some on, says Undurraga.
Snacks are an easy place to get more of the good stuff we normally don’t get enough of, namely fruits and vegetables. A good snack includes a fruit or vegetable and some good fats and protein, says Undurraga. Here are some examples of good pairings:
- walnuts + plums
- red bell pepper + hummus
- pears + nut or seed butter
- cucumber slices + salmon
- plain yogurt + berries
- small salad with greens, beans, and some good fat from avocado, nuts, or olive oil.
Teas and even coffee have shown to have anti-cancer properties, thanks to their antioxidant levels, says Undurraga. But there's very important caveat: Don’t load up your tea or coffee with a lot of sugar or trans-fat laden creamers, both of which may increase cancer risk if consumed in excess.
This article originally appeared on Rodale's Organic Life.