By Neal D. Barnard, MD Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC Author of the 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart
Foods have a surprising power to protect you against cancer, and simple breakfast choices let you put them to work.
Cancer cells crop up in our bodies all the time, and certain foods supply the nutrients that can stop cancer cells from forming and even help your body knock out cancer cells. If we really put the power of food to work, as much as 40 to 60% of cancer cases might never occur.
Here are four quick and easy ways to power up your breakfast with cancer-fighting foods.
Cancer Fighter #1: Papaya
Add some diced papaya to your morning yogurt. That faint reddish color in the papaya comes from lycopene, a powerful antioxidant also found in tomatoes. Papaya has a special carotenoid, too, called beta-cryptoxanthin. Together, these natural compounds knock out free radicals that can cause cancer and can even make cancer cells self-destruct. Researchers are especially zeroing in on papaya’s ability to prevent cervical cancer, and it appears to help against other forms as well.
Have about one papaya per week. Cut it into chunks, and pop it into a plastic bag in the fridge. It will be ready when you are.
To kick it up another notch, try soy yogurt. For several years, researchers have wondered whether soy would help or hurt in the battle against cancer, and the verdict is now in: Soy is a cancer fighter.
Studies show that a serving of soy daily (think soy yogurt, soymilk or tofu) can cut breast cancer risk by as much as 30%. And women previously treated for breast cancer benefit, too. They cut the risk that their cancer will return by about 30% if they include soy products in their routine. The credit goes to natural compounds called isoflavones.
Cancer Fighter #2: Sesame
Top your morning cereal with sesame seeds. Yes, they’ll add a nice crunch, but they are also loaded with vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. They also provide natural lignans that help balance hormones – a fact that has captured the attention of scientists looking for ways to prevent hormone-related cancers, such as breast and uterine cancer.
Have about one tablespoon of sesame seeds once or twice a week. If you like, save a little for your evening salad.
For extra cancer-fighting power, choose a high-fiber cereal, like old-fashioned oatmeal or bran cereal. Fiber cuts your risk of colon cancer.
Cancer Fighter #3: Spinach
So, you’re whipping up an omelet and wondering what to put inside. How about adding some spinach? It’s loaded with folate, a B-vitamin that helps your cells repair DNA damage that could otherwise lead to cancer.
Spinach can be used fresh, steamed, or sautéed. If you prefer, try kale, collards, or broccoli. They have folate, too, and they also boost your liver’s ability to remove cancer-causing toxins from your body.
Just two servings a week will help – but green vegetables are so healthful, I’d suggest having them every day.
Ready to go an extra step? Since the omelet itself has a fair amount of cholesterol and none of the cancer-fighting fiber you need, try replacing it with scrambled tofu. It is almost identical to egg whites, readily taking on the flavors of spices and sauces. My favorite breakfast scrambler recipe is made with spinach and potatoes, with a bit of ground turmeric.
Click here for a complete Cancer-Fighting Breakfast Scramble recipe. You can modify it to include spinach and potatoes, tomato and basil, or curry, peas and cilantro.
Cancer Fighter #4: Super Anti-Cancer Breakfast Smoothie
There’s nothing faster than a morning smoothie and, with the right ingredients, it can be a cancer-fighter, too. Just pop frozen blueberries into your blender with a ripe banana and a cup of almond milk or soymilk. Blend it slowly at first, and then turn it up as the ingredients start to blend. It’s delicious, and great for you!
The rich color of blueberries comes from anthocyanins, natural antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. Blueberries also help prevent urinary tract infections, just as their cousins, cranberries, do.
For variety, try adding mango or kale to your smoothie. These foods have cancer-fighters of their own.
Click here for Cancer-Fighting Smoothie recipes. Try varieties like mango and blueberry, berries and kale, and the all-berry blaster.
A Healthy Bonus
In addition to their cancer-preventing properties, papaya, spinach and blueberries all have fiber. That’s important because fiber satisfies your appetite with essentially no extra calories, protecting you from overeating and helping trim your waistline. The pay off goes beyond what you see in the mirror. Trimming away extra weight reduces your risk of breast and other cancers.
People who eat breakfast daily are 80% less likely to become obese, compared with people who skip breakfast. If you miss breakfast, you’ll tend to overcompensate later in the day, taking in more calories than you would have if you had started your day with a healthy breakfast.
If you’re feeling a bit unsure about papaya, sesame seeds, spinach, or any other healthy addition to your menu – or if you’re reluctant to take time for breakfast – just try it for 3 weeks. Chances are you’ll get hooked on health.