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Oncology dietitian Dawn Napoli: The ABCs of cancer prevention

December 28, 2012

You always hear that being proactive and taking preventative measures is the key when it comes to cancer, so how do you make sure you are doing this sufficiently? Well, from a nutrition standpoint, you can make sure that you are including these top cancer fighting foods in your diet on a daily basis.


Apple trees originated in Western Asia and were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples are now one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. About 69 million abcs-of-cancer-prevention-applesmetric tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, with China producing almost half of this total and the U.S. being the second-leading producer. My favorite, the Honeycrisp, was cultivated around 1960 by crossing the Macoun and the Honeygold apples. Apples are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, providing at least 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), but it’s the phytochemicals (quercetin, epicatechin, anthocyanins, and triterpenoids) found mostly in the peel that posses most of the antioxidant powers.

Choose firm, shiny, smooth-skinned appeals with intact stems. Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Gala are the common choices for a sweet apple; for a more tart flavor, pick up a Braeburn or Fuji. When baking and cooking with apples, Cortland, Jonagold, Pippin, Granny Smith, and Ida Red are recommended.


We’ve always been told that if it tastes good, it’s probably not good for you…. Well berries are an exception to that rule! Not only can these little gems of nature healthfully satisfy your abcs-of-cancer-prevention-berriessweet tooth, but they may also provide some anti-cancer benefits. Blueberries, one of the few fruits native to North America, contain powerful phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which give these berries their blue color. They are an excellent source of vitamins C & K, manganese, and a good source of dietary fiber. Cranberries at one time were carried on ships by whalers and mariners to prevent scurvy, which results from a deficiency of vitamin C. ½ cup of raw cranberries provides more than 10 percent of the daily value of vitamin C and dietary fiber; dried cranberries has almost no vitamin C, but do provide a concentrated amount of antioxidant phytochemicals.

Choose firm, plump, and dry berries, or keep frozen berries on hand to quickly add to salads, smoothies, cereals, or baked goods. Fresh cranberries can be refrigerated for up to two months or dried cranberries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three months.

Beans and Legumes

Did you know that legumes are so valuable, that prominent families in ancient Rome derived their names from legumes? For example, Cicero is from the Latin word for chickpea. Some of the most common legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, abcs-of-cancer-prevention-beans-legumesmesquite, carob, soybeans, and peanuts. Many legumes contain symbiotic bacteria (called Rhizobia) within their roots. These bacteria have the special ability of converting nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia, which is then further converted to ammonium. Nitrogen is an essential component in the production of proteins, making legumes relatively rich in plant proteins. Dry beans and peas are rich in fiber, protein, and the B vitamin folate. Foods containing folate probably help reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer. Legumes also contain a variety of protective phytochemicals, and resistant starch which is used by healthful bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids, which seem to shield colon cells. Dry and canned beans are nutritionally equal; however, if you buy the canned choose the “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” and rinse the beans well to pull as much sodium off as possible. Dry beans and whole peas need to soak before cooking- in a big pot of cold water overnight, or in hot water for 1 to 4 hours. To reduce gas-producing substances, soak longer, then discard the soaking water and use fresh water for cooking.

Cruciferous vegetables

The Latin word Cruciferae, meaning “cross-bearing”, was given to this group of vegetables due to the shape of their flowers, whose four petals resemble a cross. You have probably heard of broccoli and cauliflower coming from this group, but did you know that Brussels abcs-of-cancer-prevention-vegetablessprouts, rapini, green cabbage, white turnips, and green leafy vegetables such as kale and collard greens are also part of this category?

These are non-starchy vegetables that contain dietary fiber, folate, carotenoids (including beta-carotene) and vitamin C. The compounds in these vegetables have shown convincing evidence that they lower your risk of colorectal cancer, and may reduce your risk for mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophageal, stomach, pancreas and lung cancers as well.

When buying these vegetables, choose compact, firm heads heavy for their size with no soft spots and no off odors. Steam, microwave, stir-fry or sauté to retain the maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals. Turnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower can also be tasty when roasted or baked, or eaten raw dipped in hummus.

Do you have any questions about foods that may help prevent cancer? Ask here!