Put cancer prevention on your plate with fruits and veggies

Courtesy of Franciscan Health System

You know that eating fruits and vegetables is important for your overall health, but did you know eating lots of produce can also reduce your risk for cancer? The key is filling your plate with many different colors.

“The same plant chemicals that give different fruits and vegetables their colors also help protect your body against cancer,” said Tricia Sinek, RD, a Franciscan Cancer Care expert. “Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds and they protect your cells when you eat them.”

Different types of phytochemicals protect your body in different ways, so consuming a variety of produce colors is key for reaping as many benefits as you can.

For instance, some phytochemicals suppress the growth of cancer. Others help your cells unload toxins that otherwise may damage the genetic material inside of your cells, thus contributing to cancer. Others strengthen your cell walls so they’re less prone to form harmful compounds in your body.

“Ideally, you want to consume a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day with at least one food from each color group,” Sinek said. Color groups include:

• Purple and blue foods: grapes, beets, berries and eggplant

• Red and orange foods: tomatoes, peppers, apples, oranges and sweet potatoes

• Green and yellow foods: kale, spinach, broccoli, string beans and squash

In addition, consume plants that provide lots of aromas and flavors because they often contain cancer-preventing properties, Sinek said. Examples of these plants include garlic, onions, herbs, spices, horseradish and olives.

One of the best ways to increase the variety of colors, odors and flavors in your diet is by starting slow.

Choose one food from a color group for a day.

After a few days, add another color so that you’re getting at least two servings of brightly colored plants. Continue adding colors to your diet, experimenting with new foods and flavors to discover what you enjoy.

“It’s been shown that we eat with our eyes first. So if your food is beautiful, it enhances your enjoyment,” Sinek said. “At the same time, you’re reducing your risk for disease.”


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