Mom Was Right! Why Fruits and Vegetables Are Healthy and Help Prevent Cancer

Monday, June 24, 2013 - 3:13pm

Eat your veggies! Eat a “rainbow” of foods on your plate. Eat your spinach to stay strong! Whatever advice you heard growing up about eating your fruits and vegetables, there is significant merit in the recommendations when it comes to preventing cancer.

At least two-thirds of your plate should contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Only one-third or less of your plate should contain animal products. This is because these plant-based foods contain vitamins and minerals, they’re higher in fiber and they’re a good source of phytochemicals.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants. (Phyto means plant in Greek.) They provide plants with color, odor and flavor. Research shows when we eat plant based foods containing phytochemicals, they can they play an important role in cancer prevention (as well as helping to prevent heart disease and diabetes).

These chemicals stimulate our immune systems to be stronger, block carcinogens from being formed and also help prevent DNA damage (a major precursor to most cancers). Phytochemicals also help decrease a cell’s chance of becoming abnormal from oxidation—the negative effect of oxygen on our cells.

Another plus of phytochemicals is fruits and vegetables help slow down how fast cancer cells can grow, if you already have cancer.

If you eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes such as beans, it also helps you maintain a healthy weight. This is because many plant-based food choices are lower in energy density (calories). And as an extra bonus, phytochemicals also stimulate the immune system to fight against bacteria and viruses.

Try to choose brightly colored or strongly flavored vegetables and fruits, which are often the best sources of phytochemicals.

So how can you incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet painlessly? Here are some tips.

  • Have a vegetarian meal once a week.
  • At breakfast, add fruit to your yogurt, pancakes, waffles or cereal.
  • Whip up a smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit.
  • Snack on veggies with hummus for a snack.
  • Be sneaky. Add grated vegetables such as carrots or zucchini to muffins, stews, lasagna, and casseroles.
  • Freeze grapes, blueberries, and bananas for a refreshing and cool treat.
  • Instead of a cheese and ham omelet, choose an omelet with onions, peppers and mushrooms.

One last point is about supplements.

Fruits and vegetables are your natural supplement to fight off cancer because of the disease-fighting compounds already in them. Phytochemicals are better absorbed when they are consumed in whole foods, rather than in a pill or drink form. Supplements also can lead to overdosing and can interfere with certain medications.

If you are currently taking a supplement that your physician has prescribed for you do not stop taking it. But ask about it at your next visit to ensure there are no other options.

Enjoy these healthy recipes for you and your family to make all those veggies and fruits as delicious as possible!

Learn more about phytochemicals from this printable brochure. And don't forget to follow our Eat, Drink and Be Healthy board on Pinterest!