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10 Nutrition Tips to Fight Cancer

Cancer is a frightening diagnosis and unfortunately one that affects almost everyone of us either personally or through family or friend connections. The alarming statistics is that 1 out of every 3 individuals in the United States has a risk of developing cancer during their lifetime.(i)

A diagnosis of cancer often leaves patients feeling helpless and powerless and relying on the doctors prescription of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and/or surgery as the only means to fight the cancer.  Medical treatments can be lifesaving, yet every patient has access to one of the most powerful treatments to fight cancer and you dont even need a prescription…..NUTRITION!   As Ann Wigmore stated, “The food we eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”.

The following are 10 nutrition tips to fight cancer and maintain optimal health.

1. Avoid Sugar

Before you can begin to include foods that fight cancer, you need to stop eating the foods that fuel it.  The most preferred source of fuel for a cancer cell is SUGAR!  Researchers have long studied the relationship between malignant tumor growth and sugar in the diet.  As early as 1923, researchers at the University of Utah discovered that tumor cells utilize and favor more sugar than non tumor cells.  More recent literature reviews reveal the emergence of cancer can be suppressed or delayed, and the proliferation of already existing tumor cells can be slowed down, stopped, and reversed by depriving the cancer cells of the food they need for survival…..sugar! (ii)

“Sugar” is present in both refined and complex carbohydrates. While both influence blood glucose and insulin levels, refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to our health.  Refined carbohydrates include refined grains such as white flours, white rice, packaged and processed foods with added sugar, fruit juices etc.   Remember sugar is hidden in many foods and comes in many forms.  Examples include honey, agave nectar, syrup, cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, and words ending in “ose” to name a few.  To avoid cancer growth, avoiding all sugar in all forms is strongly encouraged and supported in the research.

2. Low Carb Diet

Low carb diets or ketogenic diets (the exclusion of carbs) are being studied as a non pharmaceutical approach to fighting cancer.  A ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low or absent of carbohydrates; most notably starches, sugars and fruits.  This particular diet forces the body to burn fats for energy instead of the usual carbohydrate fuel source.  The body breaks down fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies and enters a state of ketosis. Cells then utilize these ketone bodies instead of glucose for functions and energy.

Normal cells have the metabolic flexibility to adapt from using glucose to using ketone bodies, but cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility.(iii)  As stated in #1. Sugar, cancer cells thrive on sugar or glucose, and a diet lacking in carbohydrates will cause apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells.  Therapeutic ketosis is being studied by Dr.Dominic D’Agostino at the University of South Florida to treat malignancies.(iv)   They found that when lab animals were fed a carb-free diet, they survived highly aggressive metastatic cancer better than those treated with chemotherapy.(iii, iv)  His research supports that cancer is highly responsive to nutrition therapies that lower blood glucose and this is most easily achieved by following a low carb or ketogenic diet.

3.  Eat Protein

Research supports the use of low carbohydrate/high protein diets in the prevention and treatment of cancer.(v)

Protein has many vital functions in body.  It is responsible for muscle, organ, tendon, ligament, and bone strength, the formation of enzymes and hormones, blood transporting and clotting, tissue repair and maintenance, fluid balance inside and outside the cells and energy.  Many of these functions are disrupted by cancer and protein requirements are often increased when therapy plans include chemo, radiation, hormone and surgical treatments.

It is important to consider the quality of animal proteins in the diet as many animal proteins in the U.S. can carry a high toxic load.  Growth and estrogen hormones are often used in animals to fatten them up and increase growth rates.  The increased exposure to these hormones is associated with the increased risk of hormonally driven cancers such as breast and prostate cancers.    When eating proteins, organic animal proteins are strongly encouraged to avoid any additional exposure to toxins and hormones.

4. Include Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are members of the Brassica family and they are rich in many nutrients.  These group of vegetables include nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants specifically carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), Vitamins C, E and K, folate and minerals.  When digested, cruciferous vegetables yield biologically active compounds and these compounds have shown to be chemoprotective agents.(vi)  The most notable are indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates and they have been found to inhibit the development of bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach cancers.(vi)  Indole 3 carbinol specifically acts on estrogens and binds “bad” estrogens reducing hormonal risk. Both compounds also have anti inflammatory, anti viral, and anti bacterial effects and therefore inactivate carcinogens, protect cells from DNA damage, and inhibit metastasis.  The rich antioxidant properties of cruciferous vegetables make them great scavengers of free radicals or oxidants which are known to cause cancer.  The following are examples of cruciferous vegetables:

Arugula                                                         Horseradish

Bok choy                                                       Kale/Spinach

Broccoli                                                         Radishes

Brussels sprouts                                         Rutabaga

Cabbage                                                        Turnips

Cauliflower                                                  Watercress

Collard greens                                             Wasabi

It is important to note organic produce is also strongly encouraged to avoid exposure to synthetic or chemical estrogen imitators called xenoestrogens.  Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers contain xenoestrogens that can influence estrogen levels within the body and are linked to hormone specific cancers.   Xenoestrogens cause estrogen pollution in the body and are found in many things to include: plastics, canned foods, food additives, household cleaners, non stick or Teflon pans, as well as the chemicals used to control pests.  Limit your exposure and choose organic!!

5. Berries are Best

Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, Acai berries, and cranberries are rich in antioxidants that help scavenge free radicals and decrease cancer risk.  More specifically, berries contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin which has been researched for its potential to turn off genes that stimulate inflammation and  tumor promotion and progression.(vii)   Research is currently being conducted on the anti cancer benefits of cranberries and black raspberries on colon, esophagus, and prostate cancers.  Berries can be included in the diet in both fresh or frozen forms.  Remember to read the ingredients with frozen berries to insure sugar in any form has not been added during packaging.   Additionally, if following a low carb diet, only a small portions of berries can be included daily.

6. Essential Fats 

The term essential refers to the body’s requirement of nutrients through diet for biological processes as the they are unable to be synthesized.  Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are grouped under a larger classification of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s).  There are several EFA’s, however with respect to cancer treatment and prevention, Omega 3 gets most of the attention.  Omega 3′s are anti inflammatory and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.  Omega 3′s are  found in both vegetable and fish sources. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in sources such as flax, chia, walnuts, and hemp as well as dark leafy green vegetables.  Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in animal dietary sources such as fish oil and sea life, including algae and krill.  While both vegetarian and animal sources are anti-inflammatory, the clinical benefits of Omega 3′s from EPA and DHA are found to be more potent and most beneficial.

Unlike Omega 3, Omega 6 EFAs are readily found in our diet through corn, soybean and canola oils.  Omega 6′s promote inflammation and this leads to oxidation and free radical formation.  The Standard American Diet has a strong disproportion of Omega 6:Omega 3 leaving most Americans inflamed and at higher risk for health complications.

Research suggests the inclusion of Omega 3′s (DHA and EPA) in the diet via food or supplementation can reduce the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer. Dietary supplementation with certain PUFAs may also provide a means of enhancing the response to cancer therapies. Altering the physical and functional properties of tumor cell membranes by enrichment with these PUFAs may increase the response to chemotherapy and radiation, and may, to some degree, reverse the resistance of cancer cells to certain chemotherapeutic agents.(ix)

7. Drink Green Tea

Green teas, and their medicinal plant chemicals known as catechins, have long been used for treating high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.  The most active and abundant catechin or polyphenol of green tea is EGCG.  Studies indicate polyphenols, specifically EGCG, have cancer fighting properties through apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells.  Green tea polyphenols are rich in antioxidants (20 times higher in antioxidants as compared to Vitamin C) and scavenge free radicals known to cause cancer. In addition green teas have been shown to activate detoxification enzymes, such as glutathione that may help protect against tumor development.  New research suggests that green tea maybe especially helpful in slowing or preventing tumor growth specifically in breast and prostate cancer as well as esophageal and stomach cancer.(viii)

Green Tea has medicinal benefits regardless of temperature (hot or cold) but always check the label for no added or synthetic sugars.  Brewing your own green tea is highly recommended!  If you are caffeine sensitive, opt for the caffeine free version.  To enhance the antioxidant properties of green tea, use a slice of citrus (lemon or orange) in your tea.   Green tea can also be taken in supplement form. Standardized green tea extract is 90 percent total polyphenols, and 1 capsule equals 5 cups of tea.  A daily dose of 300 to 400 mg of supplemental green tea extracts is used, however it is advised you consult your physician before starting any nutrition supplement.

8. Avoid Soy?

The soybean contains phytoestrogens known as isoflavones  hat when metabolized act like and influence estrogen receptors in the body.  Estrogen is a primary female sex hormone however both males and females have measurable estrogen levels.  There are two types of estrogens- steroidal and non steroidal.  It is conclusive that phytoestrogens  such as the soybean are non steroidal and posses estrogenic activity. What is inconclusive or shows mixed results clinically is whether soy increases or decreases cancer risk.

Certain cancers can be hormone related or hormone specific.  They include: breast, ovarian, endometrial or uterine, and prostate.  It is estimated that 80% of breast cancers rely on supplies of estrogen to grow or more easily stated they are estrogen specific cancers.  Suppression of estrogen production is a treatment for these cancers and known as hormone therapy.  Soy isoflavones have been known to increase the effects of estrogen in the body, therefore by avoiding foods containing soy one can implement a natural means of hormone therapy.  Many oncologists recommend patients with hormone specific cancers avoid soy to prevent increased effects of estrogen in the body.   Soy can also interfere with the medications tamoxifen, raloxifene and thyroid hormones, as well as the absorption of certain minerals like iron, calcium and zinc.

On the flip side research has also shown that isoflavones can have anti-estrogen properties.  They can stop the formation of estrogens in fat tissue and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can work in ways to reduce cancer growth.   These positive benefits though are often nullified as most soy in the United States is genetically modified (GMO) and not organic.  It is estimated that up to 90% of the soy produced in the US is GMO.  As stated earlier the use of pesticides and herbicides also increases the exposure of xenoestrogens.  Additionally, the conflicting conclusions on soy is also influenced by the type of soy in the diet.   Soybeans, even non GMO organic soy, naturally contain compounds that can negatively influence our health.  These compounds include: phytoestrogens (listed above), goitrogens, saponins, and phytates. By fermenting soy, these compounds are destroyed allowing the body to utilize the benefits of soy, however most Americans do not eat fermented soy products but instead unfermented such as soy milk, soy protein powders, soy infant formulas, tofu and soy added to many packaged and processed food items.

Bottom line: Discuss the risks of eating soy with your physician, especially if you are diagnosed with a hormone specific cancer.  If you are including soy in your diet, opt for fermented (i.e. miso and tempeh) non GMO organic soy products.

 9. Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Tomatoes and mushrooms are rich in nutrients linked to anti cancer and medicinal benefits.

Lycopene is a bright red carotenoid rich in antioxidants that gives certain fruits and vegetables their red color.  Tomatoes are high in lycopene and research reveals people whose diets are rich in tomatoes have lower risk of certain cancers; specifically prostate, lung, stomach, cervix, breast esophagus, colon, rectum and mouth.   The antioxidant benefits of lycopene appear to be twice that of beta carotenoids (orange colored fruits and vegetables) making it an excellent scavenger of free radicals.  Another way lycopene may reduce the risk of cancer is by activating special cancer preventive enzymes such as phase II detoxification enzymes.

Studies reveal lycopene levels in the blood were higher after people ate cooked tomatoes than after they ate raw tomatoes. This suggests that lycopene in cooked tomato products may be more readily absorbed by the body than lycopene in raw tomatoes. Additionally eating lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables together with a small amount of oil or fat increases the amount of lycopene absorbed by the intestines.

Mushrooms have been reported as being useful in preventing and managing cancer.  They are rich in dietary fiber, specifically chitin and beta-glucans, that have  anti tumor, anti viral, anti thrombotic and immunomodulating properties. Recently researchers have discovered that mushrooms have possible anti-estrogen activity.  In 2009, a case-control study of the eating habits of 2,018 women revealed that women who consumed mushrooms had an approximately 50% lower incidence of breast cancer. It has been found that Chinese women who consumed mushrooms and green tea had a 90% lower incidence of breast cancer.(x)

10.  Vitamin D

Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin, is influential in almost every cell of the body.  Ongoing research suggests Vitamin D3 is a potent  anti-cancer nutrient and it is an easy non invasive, non toxic approach to fighting the war on cancer.  A study published in July of 2012 revealed that Vitamin D3 inhibits the growth of many kinds of cancerous cells, including breast cancer, through anti tumor and anti inflammatory properties including apoptosis (cell death) and inhibition of invasion, metastasis, and angiogenesis.(xi) Research supports Vitamin D3 can be beneficial in fighting breast, prostate, colorectal and ovarian cancers.

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus and our biggest source of Vitamin D is from the sun.  Food sources of vitamin D are scarce with highest amounts coming from fatty salt water fish (i.e. cod liver oil) and fortified dairy products.  It is estimated that 50% of the US population is clinically deficient in Vitamin D.  Most clinical reference ranges for Vitamin D show deficiency at  <30-35ng/mL, but research suggests that recommended optimal ranges for disease prevention should be closer to 60-80ng/mL.  There are many studies documenting the increased risk of breast cancer and low vitamin D levels.  In order to increase your Vitamin D levels into optimal range, supplementation is likely indicated.  Discuss correct dosing recommendations with your healthcare provider.


Do more than exist, live.

Do more than touch, feel.

Do more than look, observe.

Do more than read, absorb.

Do more than hear, listen.

Do more than listen, understand.

Do more than think, ponder.

Do more than talk, do something.

~John. H. Roades

This post is dedicated to my sister in law battling breast cancer and to all those affected by cancer.  Take charge of your nutrition and win the war on cancer.

(i) Lifetime Risk (Percent) of Being Diagnosed with Cancer by Site and Race/Ethnicity: Males, 18 SEER Areas, 2007-2009 (Table 1.15) and Females, 18 SEER Areas, 2007-2009 (Table 1.16). 2012. Accessed at http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2009_pops09/results_merged/topic_lifetime_risk_diagnosis.pdf on November 28, 2012

(ii)Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer? Rainer J Klement and Ulrike Kämmerer; Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011; 8: 75; Published online 2011 October 26. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-8-75 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267662/?tool=pubmed

(iii) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/03/10/ketogenic-diet.aspx

(iv) http://hsccf.health.usf.edu/researchDirectoryTemplate/depttemplate.cfm?&person_id=24854&deptid=28


(vi) Murillo G, Mehta RG. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. Nutrition and Cancer2001;41(1-2):17-28

(vii)) Thomasset, Sarah et al. (June 2009). “Do anthocyanins and anthocyanidins, cancer chemopreventive pigments in the diet, merit development as potential drugs?”. Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology 64 (1): 201–11.

(viii) Sartippour MR, et al. Green tea inhibits vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induction in human breast cancer cells. J Nutr 2002;132:2307-11

(ix) Conklin, Kenneth MD. Dietary Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Impact on Cancer Chemotherapy and Radiation. Alternative Medicine Review 2002 (Feb); 7)(1): 4-21.

(x) Zhang, M; Huang, J; Xie, X; Holman, CD (2009). “Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women”. International Journal of Cancer (International Journal of Cancer (Online)) 124 (6): 1404–1408.

(xi) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22801352

The information provided in this post is for education only and is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor should it be used as a replacement for seeking medical treatment.

Copyright © Jaime Coffey Martinez, Nutrition CPR, LLC

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