Nutrition scientists have shown over and over that people who eat more natural plant foods – vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. – are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer. But are all vegetables equally protective? To win the war on cancer, we must design an anti-cancer diet. What is an anti-cancer diet, exactly? An anticancer diet is one that focuses on the foods with the most powerful anti-cancer effects. If we ate plenty of these foods each day, we would flood our bodies with the protective substances contained within them.
The cruciferous family of vegetables is full of super foods with powerful anti-cancer effects – we should eat vegetables from this family every day. This family includes green vegetables like kale and bok choy plus some non-green vegetables like cauliflower.
Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates and in a different area of the cell, an enzyme called myrosinase. When we blend, chop or chew these vegetables, we break up the plant cells, allowing myrosinase to come into contact with glucosinolates, initiating a chemical reaction that produces isothiocyanates (ITCs) – powerful anti-cancer compounds. ITCs have been shown to detoxify and remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing.1
Observational studies have shown that eating ITC-rich cruciferous vegetables protects against cancer – here are a few examples:
Cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful for preventing hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer, because some ITCs, such as indole-3-carbinol (abundant in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage), can even help the body excrete estrogen and other hormones.5 In fact, new research has shown additional anti-estrogenic effects of both indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane (most abundant in broccoli); these ITCs blunt the growth-promoting effects of estrogen on breast and cervical cancer cells.5-7
Eating cruciferous vegetables produces measurable isothiocyanates in breast tissue8, and observational studies show that women who eat more cruciferous vegetables are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer: In a recent Chinese study, women who regularly ate one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables had a 50% reduced risk of breast cancer.4 A 17% decrease in breast cancer risk was found in a European study for those consuming cruciferous vegetables at least once a week.9 Plus, breast cancer survivors who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly have lower risk of cancer recurrence – the more cruciferous vegetables they ate, the lower their risk.10
Within an overall nutrient-dense eating style, cruciferous vegetables can provide us with a profound level of protection against cancer. Don’t forget: chopping, chewing, blending, or juicing cruciferous vegetables is necessary to produce the anti-cancer ITCs.