You've heard it before . . . eat your broccoli, it's good for you! Well, it's true. Eating more broccoli, citrus fruits, onions and soy beans may help to protect you from cancer. And not just because of the nutrients they contain . . . it's more likely because of the chemicals found in these foods.
They're called "phytochemicals," meaning plant chemicals, and there's hundreds of them found in plant foods. Some examples include indoles in broccoli and genstain in soy beans. Over the past 20 years, scientists all over the world have consistently found that people who eat greater amounts of vegetables and fruits have lower rates of cancer. Why that is, we don't exactly know.
We can't yet prove that fruits and vegetables are totally responsible for curbing cancer, but we're sure they play important roles. When animals are given vegetables and fruits before being exposed to carcinogen (cancer-causing agents), they are less likely to develop cancer. With humans, we don't have the same evidence to make as clear a connection.
So which plant foods are the best cancer fighters? These are just some of the more widely studied phytochemicals:
garlic, onions, leeks and chives - may make carcinogens easier to excrete.
cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, turnips) - may block carcinogens from damaging your cells genetic make-up.
soy beans/dried beans - may help prevent cancerous tumours from developing.
citric fruits, grapes and other fruits - may help dispose of potential carcinogens.
Whole grains - may help to prevent cell damage from taking place.
Which is best, raw or cooked? It really doesn't matter with regard to phytochemical content; even canned, frozen and juiced produce pack a phytochemical punch. However, raw or steamed vegetables would provide the best nutrient value.
Do phytochemicals come in pill form? Not as yet, but maybe in 10 years. Of course, isolating a few compounds in a pill will not provide you with the hundred of protective benefits that plant food provide. Your best deal: Get your phytochemicals by eating a good variety of plant foods every day, starting today. To your good health!