The Cancer Fighters In Your Food

Scientist are finding more and more evidence that the food we eat affects our risk of developing cancer.  Around 40% of cancers are preventable.  Eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are, after not smoking, the most important ways you can reduce your cancer risk.

What are phytochemicals?

The word "phytochemical" means a naturally occurring plant (phyto, in Greek) substance.  Phytochemicals provide a plant with color, aroma, and flavor as well as protection from infection and predators.


In the human diet, phytochemicals work together to fend off cancer and other diseases.  Phytochemicals have the potential to stimulate the immune system, slow the growth rate, of cancer cells and prevent DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

Many phytochemicals are antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body's cell from oxidative damage.  Preventing this type of damage might help protect us from cancer and other diseases.


The body produces enzymes and protective compounds that form an antioxidant defense system. Additional support from the diet is crucial.  One example of this is some foods contain vitamin C as well as phytochemicals that may turn on body antioxidant defenses.

Phytochemicals work together to boost health

No single phytochemical or food can protect you from cancer or any other disease. But eating a varied diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains does seem to offer the most protection, based on existing evidence.


Scientist have found that the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from plant foods work together to fight disease. 


According to the USDA, most adults should eat the following amounts from good health.  The amount you need to eat depends on your age, gender, and level of physical activity.  




Fruits: 1/12 - 2 cups daily (3-4 portions

Vegtables 2-3 1/2 cups daily (3-7 portions)


Whole grains: at least 3, 1-ounce portions daily (a portion equals 1 slice of bread or a half-cup of pasta, rice or cooked cereal)

Legumes (beans and peas): 1-2 1/2 cups (2-5 portions per week.

Phytochemicals In Your Diet

A Model For A Healthy Meal

To help you plan nutritious meals for cancer prevention, AICR recommends using a simple model called the New American Plate: Fill at least 2/3 of your plate with plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains and no more than 1/3 of your plate with lean meat, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy foods.


Following the New American plate model can help you control your weight too.  Extra body fat increases the risk for certain cancers and other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  


The fiber and water in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans can help fill you up with fewer calories so losing weight or maintaining your weight is easier.


Putting It Together

Here's an example of how eating plenty of plant foods can supply you with phytochemicals and antioxidants throughout your day.  Add other foods to round out your means with enough low-fat protein (such as lean meat and low-fat dairy) and other essential nutrients.


Information reproduced with the permission of the American Institute for Cancer Research  2018

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 10.24.57


Whole-grain wheat or oat cereal with blueberries.




Vegetable-bean soup (minestrone) apple


Edamame beans (green soybeans)


Salad with mixed lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, onion, carrots, and bell peppers, sprinkled with a tablespoon of nuts.

Steamed broccoli



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