Cancer-fighting nutrition and plant compounds

Phytochemicals and antioxidants are plant-based substances our bodies need

cancer-fighting nutrition

Foods, not dietary supplements, are the best sources for cancer-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Are you curious about where to find cancer-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants like flavonoids and Vitamin E? Do you ever wonder if you should be taking supplements? Want to know how to add more color and variety to your meals to prevent cancer or reduce your risk of cancer coming back? Look no further to learn more about cancer-fighting nutrition!

What is a phytochemical?

Phytochemicals are substances that occur naturally in plants. They provide flavor, protection, color and smell to a plant. When we eat foods that contain phytochemicals, they work to fight off cancer and stimulate our immune systems. Phytochemicals from food can even slow the growth rate of cancer and prevent further cell damage.

What about antioxidants?

Many phytochemicals are in fact antioxidants, as well as vitamins you might recognize, such as Vitamins C, E and A. Antioxidants protect the body’s cells from damage, which may protect us from cancer and other conditions. Antioxidants help our immune systems stay in balance. While our bodies produce some antioxidants, support from the diet is very important and can have multiple benefits. For example, an orange that provides Vitamin C also supplies a variety of phytochemicals.

Wondering about supplements?

According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, foods are the best source of phytochemicals and antioxidants before, during and after cancer treatment. Supplements should not be used for the treatment of cancer, but may be necessary if you have a specific nutrient deficiency. Make sure you talk to your physician prior to starting any supplements to make sure they are right for you.

What can I eat for cancer-fighting nutrition?

Since phytochemicals are found in plant foods, essentially any plant food will provide a variety of phytochemicals. Whole foods such as apples, spinach, whole grains, nuts, and seeds also provide fiber to keep our intestines healthy and reduce colorectal cancer risk, so it is a win-win situation.

Here are a few of the many sources for these healthy compounds:

Flavonoids, Flavonols (phytochemicals)

  • Soy foods (tofu, soy milk)
  • Pomegranate
  • Berries
  • Tea
  • Onions, garlic
  • Broccoli, cabbage
  • Carrots

Vitamin A (an antioxidant)

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Prunes, apricots

Vitamin C (an antioxidant)

  • Citrus fruit, berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Leafy green vegetables

Vitamin E (an antioxidant)

  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables and vegetable oil

Selenium (an antioxidant)

  • Whole grains
  • Garlic

While you do not need to become a vegetarian or vegan to fight cancer, eating a varied diet filled with plant foods – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans – has been shown to offer protection from cancer and recurrence. While no one phytochemical or food can protect you from cancer 100%, existing evidence has found that the nutrients in plant foods work together to prevent and fight cancer.

So mix it up! Try to eat as many types, combinations and colors of food as you can!

Take the next step:

U-M CCC dietitians NEWRegistered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.