A large number of fruits, vegetables, and beans contain certain biological agents that have been shown to help the body reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and other ailments, but, most people just don’t get enough of them.
Some of these foods contain agents that help the body detoxify cancer–causing agents before they can do their damage, or contain unique antioxidants and other natural agents that ward of disease and promote health. Here are a several plant-based foods that should be main staples in your daily diet:
These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, and turnips. Individuals with high intakes of these vegetables throughout their lifetime show a significant reduction in the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
These vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which enhances the ability of our detoxification enzymes to neutralize and remove cancer-causing agents from our bodies. Indole-3-carbinol also promotes the conversion of estrone (one of the body’s estrogen hormones) into 2-hydroxy-estrone, which is associated with a reduction in risk of breast cancer, instead of 16-hydroxy-estrone which is associated with an increase in breast cancer.
Studies show that higher levels of 16-hydroxy-estrone tend to increase breast cancer risk by over-stimulating breast cells, whereas 2-hydoxy-estrone is a weaker-acting estrogen which does not over stimulate breast cells and therefore less likely to cause cancer.
Indole-3-carbinol may also block the synthesis of estrone hormone in fat cells, which in turn is associated with a reduction in the risk of breast and prostate cancer.
For all these reasons I believe that cruciferous vegetables are one of the most important foods that you can eat to guard against cancer and to help maintain overall health.
Tomatoes are a rich source of the antioxidant known as lycopene. Higher intakes of lycopene are associated with a significant reduction in prostate cancer and cervical cancer. Lycopene is a sister compound to beta-carotene and is one of many carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables.
Lycopene is the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color (also found in pink grapefruit and other red-pink fruits and vegetables). Two very large human studies, The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and The Physician’s Health Study, showed that higher intakes of lycopene, mostly from tomatoes and tomato products (pasta sauces) and/or higher blood levels of lycopene were associated with lower risk of prostate cancer.
Lycopene has been shown to concentrate in the male prostate gland, where it provides antioxidant protection against free radicals and exhibits other anti-cancer effects. Anti-cancer effects of lycopene have also been shown to be important in the prevention of cervical cancer in women.
Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient and therefore, it must be consumed with a bit of fat in order for it to be absorbed from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream. This is why lycopene is best absorbed from pasta sauces (which often contain olive oil) or from salads that are dressed with olive oil-based dressings.
Drinking tomato juice on an empty stomach or consuming tomatoes without fat consumption, results in no lycopene being absorbed from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream. I highly recommend consuming tomatoes or tomato-based products every day, as part of your carbohydrate intake.
Spinach, Asparagus and Other Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
These vegetables contain lutein and zeazanthin, which are two carotenoids that help prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in individuals over the age of 55 in the United States and Canada.
Lutein and zeazanthin concentrate in the back of the eye near the optic nerve (which enables vision to occur). In this role, lutein and zeazanthin quench free radicals induced by sunlight that can otherwise damage the optic nerve, leading to the development of macular degeneration.
Studies show that a higher lifetime intake of lutein and zeazanthin is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts and that lutein and zeazanthin supplementation can help slow the progression of macular degeneration problems, especially when taken along with other antioxidant supplements (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, Zinc).
Many dark green vegetables also contain beta-carotene and folic acid. Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant that may help reduce cancer risk, and folic acid is required for normal DNA synthesis in every cell in the body.
Many individuals in North America, who do not take a multivitamin and mineral each day, have been shown to have a marginal deficiency in folic acid, which makes them more prone to certain cancers such as colon and breast and in women of child bearing age, increases the risk of giving birth to a child with a spinal birth defect, such as spina bifida.
Needless to say, consuming these dark green leafy vegetables (not iceberg lettuce) that are nutrient dense should also be part of your daily carbohydrate intake strategy.
Beans, Peas and Lentils
These legumes contain lignans and plant-based sterols, which provide many disease-prevention benefits to the body. Lignans help block the over production of estrone hormone in fat cells, which in turn, is associated with a reduction in breast and prostate cancer.
Plant-based sterols, such as beta-sitosterol, are known to block the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone and therefore help reduce prostate enlargement which is associated with prostate cancer.
Plant sterols have also been shown to block the replication of certain breast cancer cells, improve immune function, and help keep blood cholesterol in a safe range by blocking the absorption of cholesterol and bile acids from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream.
Beans, peas and lentils also contain the kind of fiber that improves bowel function and keeps it clean, which is thought to reduce risk of colon cancer. This kind of fiber also lowers overall blood cholesterol, which helps prevent heart attack and stroke.
Soybeans and related soy products (tofu, miso soup, soy nuts etc.) contain isoflavones, which are strongly associated with a reduced risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Onions and garlic are considered allium-containing vegetables, which contain a specialized group of disulfide compounds that demonstrate potent anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, and immune-stimulating properties. As such, higher intake of these vegetables is also associated with reduced risk of many degenerative diseases.
As you can see, nature provides us with these magnificent foods to help our body remain healthy and disease-free. Unfortunately, most people eat too little of these foods to gain the benefits of their protective effects. This fact, combined with eating too much highly processed food, animal fat, transfats and refined sugars, set the stage for many health problems. I suggest that you eat at least one food from each of the above categories each day in order to support your body’s natural defenses against disease.