How Do Plant Foods Work Their Anti-Cancer Magic? This RD Explains


Many researchers agree that a vegetarian or vegan diet can significantly decrease cancer risk. This is especially true for diets based on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.  But when it comes down to it, how do plant-foods work their anti-cancer magic?


1. Phytonutrients:  Phytonutrients are naturally occurring chemicals found only in plants that offer some pretty impressive anti-cancer benefits.  By replacing meat and dairy with more fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes, you can drastically increase your body’s supply of these beneficial chemicals.  Besides giving off the wide array of colors found in plant foods, phytochemicals have also been found to work as antioxidants, support the immune system, and help us get rid of toxins.

2. Antioxidants: Normal body processes, like metabolism and exercise, create potentially harmful free radicals.  When left unchecked, free radicals can damage DNA and thereby greatly increase cancer risk.  Antioxidants, like vitamin C, lycopene, and resveratrol, provide us with a natural defense against free radicals.  Plant-foods (especially vegetables, fruits, herbs, and green tea) are rich sources of these protective compounds.

3. Fiber: Plants also provide dietary fiber, which is the portion of plant-foods that we are not able to break down and digest.  Fiber aids in cancer prevention by binding toxins and removing them from the body.  Replacing animal products with fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes can speed up digestion and significantly decrease cancer risk.  Just be sure to increase fiber intake gradually in order to avoid indigestion. And as always, drink plenty of water!

4. Weight Management: Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes also prevent cancer by helping us achieve and maintain a healthy weight.  Plant foods tend to contain fewer calories and significantly less saturated fat than meat and dairy products, which can help us manage weight more effectively.  Obesity is a well-established risk factor for many types of cancer; so, finding a happy weight is essential for disease prevention.

5. Healthy Fats: Cancer loves inflammation, and the fat derived from animal products exerts pro-inflammatory effects in the body.  Replacing meat and dairy with healthy fats like avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds can help us shift the balance toward decreasing inflammation and thus lowering cancer risk.  These foods contain a lot of energy (calories), so portion size should always remain an important consideration!

Note: PLEASE consult with  your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Leave a comment