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You may have more control over your health than you thought. Did you know that making smart food choices can actually reduce your risk of developing certain cancers? Whether you have a family history of cancer or are currently battling the disease, there are lifestyle choices that can boost your immune system and minimize your risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

The consensus of hundreds of studies indicates that eating more fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk for developing all types of cancers. Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, compounds found in plants that may help your body fight cancer. Here is how these foods may protect you:

1. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, radishes, turnips, watercress, Brussels sprouts): Cruciferous vegetables contain a variety of compounds (Indole-3-Carbinol, glucosinolates, sulforaphanes) that have been shown in research studies to slow cancer growth and development. Studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables may lower your risk of colon and breast cancer by 40 percent.

2. Citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruit, orange): Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids and ellagic acid; these phytochemicals act as antioxidants, enhance detoxification and the immune system. High intake of vitamin C is associated with a decreased incidence of intestinal cancers and can block the formation of cancer-causing agents like nitrosamines.

3. Dark berries and grapes: Berries contain bioflavonoids (anthocyanidins and ellagic acid), which are the two most researched cancer-fighting compounds found in berries. Strawberries and raspberries contain high amounts of ellagic acid and blueberries have high levels of anthocyanosides. In current research, the anthocyanosides found in blueberries are the most powerful antioxidants known and may help prevent various types of cancers. Resveratrol, high in red or purple grapes, is thought to prevent cell damage before it begins, preventing tumor formation.

4. Whole grains: Whole grains contain a variety of anti-cancer compounds: fiber, antioxidants, lignans, selenium, zinc and vitamin E, which support elimination and detoxification pathways in the body while enhancing the immune system.

5. Green tea (regular or decaf): Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, like epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), and may be able to slow or prevent the development of a variety of cancers. Just three cups per day can make a difference.

6. Garlic and onions (scallions, leeks, and chives): Garlic contains allicin, diallyl disulfide, cysteine, selenium and flavonoids (quercetin), which are thought to block the formation of cancer-causing agents and slow or stop the growth of tumors.

7. Spices (especially ginger, rosemary and turmeric): Spices contain many compounds, like curcumin, that act as potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and enhance the immune system and detoxification pathways.

8. Tomatoes: Lycopene is the anti-cancer agent found in tomatoes that has been shown to combat prostate cancer. Lycopene is better absorbed from processed tomatoes like tomato sauce, paste, or juice.

9. Legumes and beans (especially soybeans, garbanzo and kidney): Phytochemicals in beans/legumes contain phytoestrogens, isoflavones and genistein, which act as hormonal modulators and estrogen receptor blockers. These may be protective in some hormonally based cancers and the high fiber content of legumes is associated with a decreased incidence of digestive cancers.

10. Nuts and seeds: Essential fatty acids, plant sterols and many nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and zinc are found in nuts and seeds. Flaxseed, in the form of oil and meal, contains phytoestrogens that modulate hormone receptors in the body.

11. Mushrooms: Mushrooms contain polysaccharides and beta-glucans, phytochemicals that promote specific immune cells, like natural killer cells.

12. Cold-water fish (salmon, cod, halibut): Cold-water fish contain vitamin D and essential fatty acids (EFAs) like EPA and DHA, which enhance immune function and inhibit tumor formation in the body.

13. Dark green leafy vegetables: Leafy-green vegetables like romaine, spinach, mustard greens, parsley and Swiss chard are great sources of antioxidants called carotenoids, which destroy free radicals. They are also rich in folate, a vitamin shown to reduce the risk of cervical, breast and lung cancers.

Remember it is unlikely that any single compound will protect you against cancer. A balanced diet that includes five or more servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables per day will be the most effective way to reduce your risk of developing cancer. With some of these very simple dietary changes you can make a real difference in your health and the health of your family.

Dr. La Deana Jeane is a naturopathic physician at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and Frontier Cancer Center. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send naturopathic health questions to