Anti-Cancer Diet: 6 Steps and Top Foods - Dr. Axe

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How to Eat An Anti-Cancer Diet: 6 Steps


Anti-Cancer Diet

While we’ve done articles about cancer-causing foods that you want to make sure you’re NOT eating, I wanted to discuss some simple anti-cancer solutions you can incorporate into your diet.

For example, I’ll explain ways to improve your body’s ability to detoxify, and list some of the top cancer-fighting foods, drinks, herbs and supplements.

1. Lower Your Toxin Load

An anti-cancer diet consists of:

  • Lowering your toxin intake.
  • Supporting the body’s cleansing and detoxifying processes.
  • Eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods to support all of your body’s functions.

First and foremost, you can take these steps to reduce or eliminate the following products and substances from your life in order to halt toxin accumulation and reduce free radical, cellular damage:

  • Commercial Health and Beauty Products: The things we put in our mouths and use on our skin or hair, such as commercial shampoos, makeup and cleansing products, are often loaded with potential carcinogens. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep database to look-up your favorite products and determine if you should switch to another brand.
  • Household Cleaners: Indoor environments are often concentrated sources of pollution. Lower your toxin load by switching to natural cleaners or making your own instead of using products that are filled with chemicals.
  • Unnecessary Medications: All medications pass through and burden the liver. High use of acetaminophen is rapidly overtaking alcohol as the number one cause of liver disease. Work with your physician to lessen the amount of medications you are taking.
  • Plastics: Compounds in plastic containers, plastic wraps, the lining of metal cans, and paperboard containers can all leach compounds that disrupt the neuroendocrine system. This is especially true when plastic is heated, which is why it’s smart not to microwave plastic containers, store very hot food in plastic, or leave plastic water bottles anywhere where they will become very hot (such as in your car).

Even if you eat healthy foods regularly, environmental toxins bombard you at all turns. You may also want to periodically try intermittent fasting to help with detoxification.


The organs that are responsible for detoxification and elimination — the skin, respiratory system, kidney, liver and digestive tract — often get overburdened and re-circulate toxins in the bloodstream. Practicing a cleanse or detox every few months can help these organs “catch up” and dispose of toxins stored in cells and tissue. Colon and liver cleanses can be accomplished with a variety of herbs, green drinks and easily digested whole foods such as juiced vegetables or those that are lightly steamed.

Some experts recommend drinking alkaline water which you can create by adding lemon or lime juice. To help with detoxification, you may also want to increase your intake of raw foods and green juices.

Although fiber is an important part of digestion, elimination, detoxification and a source of probiotic support — too much fiber can stress a weakened or hyper-reactive immune system. Juicing, steaming and lightly cooking raw foods, using green powders and cutting back on or eliminating whole grains can ease digestion and make many nutrients more readily available.

Related: Homemade Detox Drinks: 5 Major Health Benefits, Including Weight Loss

2. Drink Clean Water

Our drinking (tap) water can contain hundreds of unregulated substances, from pesticides and heavy metals to hormones and other pollutants. Bottled water is even less regulated, which means it’s not necessarily a good alternative.

Your best bet is buying a water filter that can be used as home to remove chlorine, fluoride and other pollutants from the water you drink and cook with.

3.  Cook Foods At Lower Temperatures and Avoid Burnt Food

  • Don’t fry your foods! Greatly reduce the amount of fast food, french fries, chips, cakes, cereals and crackers you eat.
  • It’s virtually impossible to completely eliminate acrylamide that can accumulate on fried foods. But eating a balanced diet mostly free of processed foods (and ultra-processed foods) and avoiding a high-starch diet can greatly reduce acrylamide levels.
  • Frying, baking, broiling or roasting are more likely to create acrylamide. On the other hand, boiling and steaming appear less likely to do so. Longer cooking times and cooking at higher temperatures can increase the amount of acrylamide in foods further. (12)
  • Don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator. That can cause acrylamide levels to surge. If you’re planning on cooking potatoes at higher temperatures, soak the cut-up spuds first. Soaking in water for 2 hours before high-temp cooking can reduce acrylamide levels by nearly 50 percent. Even a simple 30-second rinse can slash acrylamide levels by 20-plus percent. (13)

I don’t eat much bread, but when I do eat an occasional sandwich or toast, I make sure it’s made with sprouted bread, such as Ezekiel bread. Additionally, in any anti-cancer diet, I definitely avoid over-toasting or burning the bread! The Food Standards Agency says as a general rule of thumb, aim for a golden yellow color or lighter when toasting, roasting, frying or baking.

4. Avoid Processed Grains and Added Sugar

Our bodies make best use of food in its natural state, which is why added sugar or processed/refined grains are difficult to break down and can cause gut trouble. The more processed and altered that a food is, the more unnatural and harmful it becomes.

Refined sugar (including sugary drinks), wheat flour, boxed pastas, frozen dinners, powdered cheese and heat-treated vegetable oils — these processed foods are at the heart of a whole host of diseases and disorders.

Wheat, soy and corn products are highly subsidized by the U.S. government, making them very cheap and widely available for production of highly processed and refined products. Food allergies associated with these foods are subsequently on the rise and can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and improper nutrient absorption.

These foods are also often loaded with pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and heavy metals. More and more, the seeds from which they are grown are genetically engineered. The solution? Buy organic, sprouted whole grains and avoid processed soy products for your anti-cancer diet.

  • Check ingredient labels to be sure you’re not consuming high amounts of added sugar/sweeteners. Brown rice syrup found in some snack bars and non-dairy beverages may contain high arsenic levels.
  • Be wary of foods that might seem healthy but are really not, such as low-fat or fat-free foods, dairy-free and gluten-free foods, rice milk and foods containing artificial sweeteners. Many times these foods contain chemical additives in order to replace fat, wheat or dairy ingredients.
  • Try working alternative grains like quinoa or buckwheat into some meals, rather than eating lots of bread, instant rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
  • Rinse, soak and sprout your grains. Rinse your rice and cook it like pasta to reduce the amount of antinutrients it will provide. According to a Cornell University researcher, rinsing brown rice until the water is clear (usually 5 to 6 washings), and then cooking in a ration of 1 cup of rice to 6 cups of water, can remove 40 to 55 percent of inorganic arsenic in rice. (14, 15) And researchers from the UK found that cooking rice in a coffee pot reduced arsenic by up to 85 percent. (16)
  • Consumer Reports testing found that basmati rice grown in California contained the lowest levels of arsenic; all types of rice, except sushi and quick-cooking rice, from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas contained the highest levels of inorganic arsenic in a Consumer Reports testing. (17)

Related: Is Sugar Bad for You? Here’s How It Destroys Your Body

5. Eat More Cancer-Fighting Foods

Your best bet, to combat cancer and a host of other conditions, is to eat real food and to eat lower on the food chain. Research suggests these are some of the top cancer-fighting foods to eat regularly:

  • Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli sprouts, cabbage and kale are all members of the Brassica or Cruciferous family. Studies has found that these cruciferous vegetables are a potent source of antioxidants and studies find them to be powerful weapons against bladder, breast, colon, prostrate, stomach and rectal cancers.
  • Foods High in Vitamin A (Beta-carotene): The orange-red plant compounds found in fruits and vegetables are the precursors to Vitamin A, a potent antioxidant that is proving helpful to those with breast and ovarian cancer. Vitamin A is necessary for many bodily functions, especially the immune system. It has proven to be effective in battling breast cancer and head and neck tumors. Vitamin A may also be helpful for battling skin, cervical, colorectal, esophageal, ovarian, pancreatic and stomach cancers. Foods that supply vitamin A include liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale, spinach, grass-fed butter, eggs and winter squash.
  • Foods High in Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant the aids the immune system. It has proven effective (in whole food form—not supplements) against bladder, breast and mouth cancers. Foods high in vitamin C include berries, peppers, oranges, papaya, guava, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, peas and cauliflower.
  • Garlic: Allium vegetables such as garlic, onions and chives have antibacterial properties, DNA-defense and cancer-halting processes that seem to work against breast, colon, esophageal, rectal and stomach cancers.
  • Green Tea and Oolong Tea: The polyphenols in green tea are powerful antioxidants that have been found to destroy leukemic cells in lab cultures. They seem to recognize and halt the proliferation of abnormal cells. Oolong tea also contains theophyllines and theobromines (also in green tea) that reduce the risk of many cancers.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil contains phytonutrients that seem to reduce inflammation in the body. It may reduce the risk of breast and colorectal cancers.
  • Calcium Foods: Calcium, particularly when combined with vitamin D3 form, may reduce the incidence of cancer by 35 to 60 percent. Calcium seems to be especially beneficial for preventing cancer and rectal cancers. (17) Some studies have also found that it helps reduce breast cancer and ovarian cancer risk.  Sunlight exposure and marine oils such as cod liver oil or krill oil are great sources of vitamin D that help with calcium absorption. Calcium should ideally be obtained from foods like organic dairy products (I recommend raw dairy if possible), leafy greens, almonds, beans and fish. In some cases supplementing can also be helpful, but isn’t usually recommended for all adults.

You should also replace processed meats with fresh meats and fish. Instead of eating processed meats like deli meats, sausage or hot dogs, purchase fresh, quality meat such as grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken or turkey, and wild-caught fish. To avoid over-eating one type of meat (such as beef or pork) consume a variety of protein foods, both plant based and animal-derived, since each has its benefits.

Related: Best 6 Types of Cancer-Fighting Drinks


6. Boost Detoxification With Supplements and Herbs

Eating a healthy diet is No. 1 when it comes to cancer prevention. But there are also certain herbs and supplements that have been shown to help lower inflammation, boost the immune system, and therefore help to decrease cancer risk. These include:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Blue-green algae and spirulina
  • Certain mushrooms
  • CLA: Conjugated linoleic acid boosts the immune system and may reduce the risk of developing colon, rectal and breast cancers. (18)
  • Certain mushrooms
  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate our sleep and waking cycles. This hormone’s levels are closely linked to immune system function. Getting at least eight hours of sleep and reducing stress will boost your melatonin levels.

Final Thoughts

The quality of your diet is undoubtably linked to your overall health and ability to prevent cancer. However, other factors are also important for cancer prevention, such as exercising, avoiding medication and toxin exposure, not smoking or consuming too much alcohol, sleeping well and controlling stress.

A variety of foods can be included in an anti-cancer diet, and your diet doesn’t need to be “perfect” to be healthy. Start by making one or two changes at a time to your diet, removing foods that you consume a lot of but that are known to increase cancer risk.

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