We all basically know that we need nutrients to keep us healthy, but what exactly are nutrients and where do we find them? It is no good knowing what we need if we do not know where to find it, and vitamin and mineral supplements just do not do the trick; we need natural nutrients for health and cancer protection.
Children with Cancer, especially, need as many nutrients as possible to help fight the cancer as well as the side-effects from cancer treatments such as Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy.
According to research by the American Institute for Cancer Research, getting our nutrients from foods will give one a powerful mix of health-promoting substances.
In order to help you ensure that you and your Child with Cancer are eating the best cancer-fighting foods and getting the 7 Key Cancer-Fighting Nutrients, below is a list of the seven nutrients recognised for their health benefits and where you can find them in cancer fighting foods:
Foods containing fibre reduce risk for Cancer as well as for other chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes; it also helps lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol.
Fibre is basically found in foods in two forms, soluble and insoluble. A fibre-rich diet is usually recommended to maintain healthy digestion because it regulates proper functioning of the digestive system and promotes a feeling of satiety.
Fibre is only found in plant foods, and below are the best fibre-rich foods:
- Apples are renowned for their innumerable health benefits, including fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants.
- Avocado is renowned for its bounty of health benefits; it contains fibre and mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
- Beans, especially kidney beans, are very high in fibre, iron and protein.
- Bran Flakes are an excellent source of dietary fibre. Basically, bran is the outer layer of grain that is removed during refining of the grain, and it has a high nutritional value.
- Broccoli is well-known for its high fibre content, and it is also loaded with beneficial antioxidants and special plant compounds known as phytonutrients.
- Brown Rice comes in whole grains and is high in fibre content as well as being rich in minerals like selenium, manganese and magnesium.
- Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fibre, and can be easily consumed by adding to cereal, oatmeal, yoghurt and salads.
- Lentils are full of both soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamin B, protein, iron, and several healthy minerals.
- Pears are filled with bounty of health benefits such as non-soluble fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Raspberries are generally known for being full of antioxidants, but are also one of the healthiest fibre-rich foods around.
Vitamin B9, commonly known as folate or folic acid, plays an important role in preserving the genetic material or DNA. Consuming adequate amounts of folate rich foods is believed to reduce the risk of DNA mutation responsible for growth of the malignant cells.
According to the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, supplementation with folate can fight cancer at the early state of carcinogenesis in people suffering from folate deficiency. However, folate supplements may stimulate growth of cancer cells if administered at the advanced stage of the disease.
It is therefore better to get your Folate from fresh food:
- Animal Foods containing vitamin B9 are liver and eggs.
- Breads, cereals and grains fortified with folic acid, an easily absorbable form of vitamin B9, are popular dietary sources of this important vitamin.
- Fruits that are important sources of folate include Papayas, Strawberries, Oranges, Pineapple, Raspberries, Kiwifruit, Cantaloupe, Lemons and Limes.
- Green Leafy Vegetables (or foliage) are among the best sources of folate. Spinach, Turnip Greens, Bok Choy, Parsley, And Romaine Lettuce are all excellent sources of folate, as are Asparagus, Cauliflower, Broccoli and Beets.
- Lentils are also very high in folate, as are garbanzo beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body; it can be found in bones, teeth, and red blood cells, and serves as a building block for DNA.
Magnesium is an essential element that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It aids in muscle contraction, including the heart muscle, which in turn supports normal rhythm and blood pressure.
Magnesium is also a vital element for nerve function, producing blood platelets, maintaining bone density, and is known to be involved in glucose and insulin metabolism.
A 2016 study in Scotland made an exciting breakthrough about the huge role magnesium plays in how fast cells convert nutrients into energy and in regulating the body’s internal clock.
Research also suggests that diets higher in magnesium may help reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, which could also mean lower risk for certain cancers.
Unfortunately, magnesium levels found in our food sources are declining; this is very likely due to farming practices such as using pesticides and not alternating fields between growing seasons (in efforts to produce greater crop yields), which can drain the soil of key minerals and nutrients. Choosing organic produce can help mitigate this potential loss of essential minerals.
Foods high in Magnesium include:
- Fortified Foods such as Shredded Wheat Cereal, Oatmeal, Soymilk, Cow’s Milk, and Peanut Butter
- Fruit such as Bananas and Avocados
- Leafy Green Vegetables such as Spinach, Broccoli, and Swiss Chard
- Legumes such as Edamame, Black beans, Black-eyed peas, Kidney beans
- Nuts such as Almonds, Cashews, and other nuts
- Seafood such as Shrimp and Halibut
- Seeds such as Sunflower Seeds and Sesame Seeds
- Whole Grains such as Brown rice and whole-wheat Bread
Potassium is one of the essential minerals needed to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance in the body. Potassium helps maintain a balance with sodium so blood pressure stays within a normal range, and it also plays a role in building muscle and controlling the body’s acid-base balance.
Lack of Potassium could lead to hypertension, fatigue etc. One can, however, get his mineral from the natural food sources, especially vegetables.
Foods high in Potassium include:
- Arugula/Rocket: Arugula is a leafy veggie which contains many nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins as well as Potassium – it is generally added to salads.
- Avocado: Avocados can be added to salads, eaten as is, or on bread products. Avocados can deliver double the potassium content found in bananas.
- Beans: Beans such as white beans, lima beans, soy beans, edamame etc. are an incredible source of potassium and are delicious in soups and some stews.
- Beet Greens: Beet greens are an amazing source of nutrients, including Potassium, antioxidants, magnesium, vitamin B6, manganese etc. and are tagged as dark green leafy veggies that can be added to salads or sautéed with olive oil and salt and eaten as a side-dish.
- Brussels Sprouts: These miniature cabbages contain a fair amount of potassium and can be boiled or sautéed with olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
- Cantaloupes/Sweet Melons: These popular melons have a delectable taste and can be eaten as is or used in smoothies.
- Dates: Dates are an excellent source of iron, potassium, and several other nutrients.
- Dried Apricots: Dried apricots are an excellent source of potassium and are nutrient-dense.
- Globe Artichokes: The globe artichoke is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds before the flowers come into bloom. They are fairly high in Potassium, and can be steamed and eaten hot or cold with butter or sauce or in a salad.
- Kale: Kale is highly nutritious and is one of the most widely known green leafy veggies which contain a good dose of potassium. Kale can be eaten in the form of baked chips or can be added to your green leafy salads.
- Papaya/Pawpaw: Papaya is a healthy tropical fruit that contains lots of nutrients, including potassium. Eat as is or in a smoothie.
- Parsnip: Parsnip is a kind of root vegetable which is mostly related to carrot and parsley. It has a delicate, sweet and slightly nutty flavour and succulent taste and is usually eaten cooked, but can be eaten raw as well. Use parsnips alongside grated potato to make a delicious breakfast hash, in soups, salads, curries, and even in cakes.
- Portobello Mushrooms: Portobello mushrooms are a great source of nutrients and contain a good amount of potassium as well. Portobello mushrooms are great in salads, on burgers, with pasta, grilled or fried, and can also be used as a meat substitute.
- Spinach: Spinach is an amazing green leafy veggie which contains loads of potassium as well as iron, protein, fibre, and high phytonutrient content, which helps combat cancer and improves heart health.
- Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium. They have a delectable taste and are packed with a bunch of nutrients and fibre. They are also a great source of vitamin A.
- Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is an amazing source of potassium and is also loaded with a healthy amount of nutrients, fibre, and vitamins. Swiss chard can be used in salads or smoothies.
- Winter Squash: Winter squash is an annual fruit representing several squash species including Hubbard Squash, Butternut, Kabocha, Acorn or Pepper Squash, Pumpkin, and Spaghetti Squash. Winter squash is a great source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre and manganese, as well as folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, tryptophan, vitamin B1 , vitamin B3, vitamin B5 , vitamin B6, iron and beta-carotene.
- Yams: Yams resemble sweet potatoes but are, however, different. They are an excellent source of potassium and fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A, and other nutrients. They can be consumed either baked or cooked.
- Yoghurt: Simple non-fat plain yoghurt contains various probiotics and could be an excellent potassium- rich snack.
5. Vitamin A
We get most of our vitamin A from foods that contain a group of phytochemicals like beta and alpha carotene which your body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. It is needed for the development of certain immune cells including B cells, T cells and Th cells. Moreover, vitamin A is needed for maintenance and regeneration of mucus membranes damaged during an infection. The mucus membranes act as barrier to infections.
Vitamin A is essential for the efficient working of the central nervous system. Some researchers have found that vitamin A improves learning skills and enhances memory by stimulating the brain cells. It can also prompt certain proteins to inhibit cancer cells in the body.
A vital nutrient, Vitamin A is also a potent antioxidant that is essential for the healthy eyes, and protects the eyes from inflammation, night blindness, dryness etc.
Fortunately, this nutrient and antioxidant is found in abundant doses in several fruits, meat, dairy products, fish, vegetables etc. including:
- Butternut Squash: Butternut squash has a yellow-orange colour, which is a sign that it has a high dose of beta-carotene that is later converted into vitamin A by the body.
- Cantaloupes: Cantaloupe melons are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in fat and calories. A wedge of cantaloupe can provide more vitamin A than the required content per day.
- Carrots: Carrots are great sources of vitamin A which is why consuming them regularly helps improve eyesight. They are also a great source of fibre, vitamins B, C, K, and potassium. Eating a medium carrot can meet more than the required daily vitamin A allowance.
- Cod Liver Oil: Cod liver oil is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega 3. It is available in the form of liquid and supplements and one tablespoon of cod liver oil can provide more than the required daily vitamin A allowance.
- Dried Apricots: Dried apricots contain good doses of antioxidants and vitamin A. A cup of dried apricot can meet around 94% of your vitamin A requirement per day and can also give you an instant energy boost.
- Dried Marjoram: Dried marjoram (similar to oregano) is one of the healthiest sources of vitamin A among the dried herbs and will enhance the flavour of soups, stews, dressings, and sauces when added during preparation.
- Kale: Kale is a nutrient-dense vegetable that has a palatable taste and including it in the diet is one of the healthiest ways to ingest vitamin A.
- Mustard Greens: Mustard greens are incredible sources of vitamin A and also
contain calcium, vitamin C, folate, manganese, fibre, protein, vitamin E etc.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes have a delectable taste and contain a various nutrients including a healthy dose of vitamin A.
- Turkey Liver: Turkey liver contains a very high dose of vitamin A and other nutrients.
- Turnip Greens: Turnip greens are low in calories and high in nutrients, including vitamin A, and can be boiled or steamed before consumption to allow the body to absorb more nutrients.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is important for healing wounds and boosting the body’s immune function; it also helps you absorb the iron in plant foods like dry beans. Activities of the immune system can be improved by increasing the concentration of vitamin C in the blood. Vitamin C is needed for production of white blood cells or leukocytes including lymphocytes, neutrophils and phagocytes.
Vitamin C is also needed for collagen production that keeps the walls of the blood vessels elastic and supple, which enhances the blood circulation to the brain, which helps the brain to enhance memory and mental health.
Vitamin C may help reduce cancer risk by protecting cells’ DNA from damage by free radicals. It may also protect against formation of cancer causing compounds like nitrosamines (found in processed meat) in the body.
Foods high in Vitamin C include:
- Bell Peppers: A staple in noodles, pasta and pizzas, bell peppers are also rich in vitamin C. Eating this sweet chili can make your skin glow. You can also include bell peppers in their raw form in sandwiches and salads.
- Brussels Sprouts are loaded with vitamin C and low in calories.
- Green Chilies: Green chilies have the highest concentration of vitamin C. Spice up soups, curries and salads with green chilies. The seeds of this vegetable are highly acidic in nature though, so remember to de-seed the chilies before using them in any form.
- Guavas: This humble fruit is a powerhouse of vitamin C. Eat as many guavas as you can for a glowing complexion but avoid eating hard seeded fruit because the hard seeds of the fruit can result in stomach ache.
- Indian Gooseberry (Amla): Indian Gooseberries are known for their many healing and curative properties. This fruit has equal amount of vitamin C concentration even in its dried and powdered form.
- Mangoes: Known as the ‘king of fruits,’ mango is also a good source of vitamin C. Serve as a snack or as a dessert for controlling sweet cravings and making the skin glow.
- Oranges: Like other citrus fruits, oranges are also high in vitamin C. Eating them on a regular basis can make skin glow.
- Papayas: Papayas are high in Vitamin C and can make a nice midday snack for controlling hunger pangs.
- Spinach: Spinach has its own fair share of vitamin C and can be used in sandwiches, soups, curries, etc.
- Strawberries: Strawberries are teeming with vitamin C and can be eaten as is or as a dessert.
7. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and healthy bones. Some studies show that people who eat more vitamin K-rich foods have stronger bones than those who eat less.
Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin crucial for many body functions. There are two forms of natural Vitamin K – Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2 – Vitamin K 1 is obtained from our diet, Vitamin K2 is produced in the large intestine by the healthy bacteria.
Vitamin K plays a very important role in maintaining bone density as it helps the bones in their function of absorbing calcium.
Both plant and animal foods can provide us with significant amounts of Vitamin K.
Foods high in Vitamin K include:
- Animal Foods including pasture-raised eggs, pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, grass-fed cheese, and grass-fed cow’s milk. Shrimp, sardines, tuna, and salmon also contain measurable amounts of vitamin K.
- Fruit such as Kiwifruit, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Grapes, Avocado, Raspberries, Cantaloupe, Pear, Plum, Cranberries and Prunes
- Herbs such as Basil, Cilantro, Sage, Oregano, Black Pepper, Cloves
- Legumes such as Soybeans, Green Peas, Green Beans, and Miso
- Vegetables such as Cauliflower, Cucumber, Carrots, Summer Squash, Chili Peppers, Bell Peppers, Eggplant, Winter Squash, Kale, Spinach, Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, Beet Greens, Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Parsley, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Romaine Lettuce, Asparagus, Cabbage, Bok Choy, Celery, and Leeks
Ensuring that your Child with Cancer (and the rest of the family) eat a balanced meal will help keep them fighting fit and the rest of you healthy.
There should be sufficient information in the above sections to make it easy to see that you all get at least some foods from each group during your meal and snack-times each day. Remember, good health and nutrition is vital in the fight against cancer!!