By now, we all know that a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can protect against a host of illnesses—from heart disease to diabetes to, yes, even certain cancers.
The Environmental Working Group recently released a deep-dive into what exactly you should be eating to mitigate your risk. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their cancer defense diet is high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and low in red and processed meats, sugar and salt. The recommendations go a step further to describe how we should be pairing and preparing our food, and that’s where things really get interesting.
“While certain individual foods and nutrients may be linked to decreased cancer risks, there are also strong hypotheses that it’s the synergies between the nutrients and phytochemicals in foods that are probably of the greatest benefit,” says Curt DellaValle, Ph.D, an EWG senior scientist.
Studies show that the nutrients in different foods protect against different hallmarks of cancer—the characteristics that make cancer cells so harmful. The carotenoids in tomatoes and leafy greens protect cells from damage, while the anthocyanins in berries can promote healthy cell regeneration. Adding more variety to your diet will harness more of these benefits, so don’t restrict yourself to a monotonous routine. And this doesn’t just mean taking more supplements, since high doses of these nutrients can actually impair your body’s ability to fight infection.
In order to take advantage of all the nutrients our food has to offer, you can also become more intentional with how you prepare your meals. The carotenoids in those tomatoes? You can maximize their bioavailability by cooking them in healthy fats. And eating anthocyanins-rich berries fresh, right before a meal can help your body uptake more of their benefits.
The daily choices we make have a real impact, and simple tweaks can make a big difference. So do yourself a favor and bookmark EWG’s cancer defense diet right now and check out this sample menu from Dawn Undurraga, a registered dietician involved in the project, to get some meal plan inspo for this weekend.
Sample Home-Cooked Cancer Defense Menu:
Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs & Veggie Wraps
- 2 medium eggs, scrambled
- 1/4 cup chopped red or orange veggies (ex: fresh tomatoes, carrots or bell peppers)
- 1/2 cup chopped dark greens (ex: spinach or broccoli)
Combine the veggies and eggs in a pan. Increase the absorption of the carotenoids in the red and orange veggies and dark greens by mixing in a little fat. A teaspoon of olive oil or a tablespoon of shredded Swiss cheese will do. Wrap in a corn or whole wheat tortilla and serve with a side of fruit like grapefruit, cantaloupe, blackberries.
Lunch: Crunchy Peanut Slaw
- 2 cups green or purple cabbage or bok choy
- 1/2 cup carrots
- 1/2 cup snow peas
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/4 cup red or apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp peanut butter or crushed peanuts
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and top with cilantro, green onions or sunflower seeds and black pepper to taste