Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes include many health-promoting features, because they tend to be low in saturated fats and high in fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals—natural substances in plants that keep our bodies strong and healthy. Vegetables and fruits may indirectly influence cancer risk through their effects on energy intake. When we follow a diet in which plant-based foods are the focus, we are less likely to gain weight.
When selecting produce, look for the three Cs:
- Color—dark green or deep yellow, orange, red, or purple
- Cruciferous—broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, watercress, bok choy, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, radishes, turnips, kale. Note: If you are on blood thinners (due to a history of, or risk for, blood clots), you will need to keep a consistent intake of these vegetables.
- Citrus—oranges, grapefruit
There is ongoing research on the potential benefits of particular vegetables and fruits, or groups of these, including dark green and orange vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, allium vegetables (onions and garlic), and tomato products. For example, research suggests that cruciferous vegetables may help fight cancer because they contain isothiocyanates, which stimulate our bodies to break down potential carcinogens (cancer causing agents).
Some evidence suggests that people who eat more vegetables and fruits have less weight gain and lower risk of developing obesity over time. Vegetables and fruits may be particularly important in maintaining a healthy weight if they replace more calorie-¬dense foods—for example, eating a fresh fruit salad instead of ice cream or ordering baked sweet potato fries instead of deep-fried French fries.
Expand your consumption of healthful foods by trying a new fruit, vegetable, low-fat food, or whole-grain product each time you shop for groceries.
Researchers have found that predominately plant-based diets (consisting of five or more servings per day) reduce our risk for several types of cancer: directly and indirectly. This is because phytochemicals found in plant-based foods can help block cancer formation or prevent recurrence by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells that have already formed. Fruits and vegetables also contain high amounts anti-oxidants; which have been found to prevent cell damage and disease (such as heart disease).
Recommendation: Because scientists do not know which compounds in vegetables and fruits are most protective, the best advice is to eat at least 5 servings of a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits each day. Cancer survivors in particular should consume more than 5 servings a day, ideally 8-10 servings. As a standard, ½ cup is a serving.
Note: While some studies show that organic produce contain higher amounts of nutrients and phytochemicals, other studies do not support this. Organic produce is environmentally sound, and exposes your body to less pesticides and herbicides. In general, eating more and a variety of vegetables and fruits (organic or not) would give your body the benefits and protection it needs.