Leafy greens contain powerful anti-cancer compounds: isothiocyanates, carotenoids, and folate. You should eat leafy greens at least three times a day, so start making green smoothies, salads, and cooked leafy greens part of your daily routine.
How do leafy greens fight cancer?
- Isothiocyanates are known cancer-fighting substances found in the cruciferous or “cabbage family” of vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, wasabi, kohlrabi, rutabaga, Chinese cabbage, horseradish, radish, and watercress.
- Carotenoids are the cancer-fighting antioxidants that give fruits and vegetables their bold orange, yellow, or green colors. Fruits and vegetable with high levels of carotenoids are all rich in color. Examples of carotenoid containing foods include kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, beet greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potato, tomato, and cantaloupe.
- Folate (vitamin B9) prevents and fights cancer. High amounts of folate are found in leafy greens, beans, and lentils. Not only does folate protect you from cancer, it is also essential for the health of your heart, nervous system, and eyes.
To get these components in your diet, do not take beta carotene or folate supplements, which can have potentially harmful effects. Instead, eat the whole foods that contain these elements. Green smoothies are a quick and easy way to begin adding leafy greens to your diet.
Easy Leafy Green Smoothie Recipe
1 cup kale
1 frozen banana
1 Granny Smith apple, quartered and seeded
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cup water
½ cup ice cubes (4 ice cubes)
Extra boost: add flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or pumpkin seeds
Blend on High for 1 minute. Makes one 12 oz. serving.
Leafy greens contain powerful components that prevent and reverse cancer as well as many other diseases. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you should follow your doctor’s treatment plan and eat a cancer-fighting whole food, plant-based diet. If you choose to adopt only one new healthy habit, it should be eating greens every day.
Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute website. Accessed December 21, 2015.
How Isothiocyanates Protect Against Cancer. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website. Accessed December 21, 2015.
How Carotenoids Protect Against Cancer. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website. Accessed December 21, 2015.
Yang G, Gao YT, Shu XO, et al. Isothiocyanate exposure, glutathione S-transferase polymorphisms, and colorectal cancer risk. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;91(3):704-711.
Hecht SS. Inhibition of carcinogenesis by isothiocyanates. Drug Metabolism Reviews2000;32(3-4):395-411.
Gupta C, Prakash D. Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. J. complement Integr Med. 2014 Sep; 11 (3); 151-69.
Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
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