The Top Cancer-Fighting Foods, According to Research

Plus, delicious ways to add these foods to your plate.

By: Lauren Panoff MPH, RD

What makes some foods better than others when it comes to preventing cancer? It has everything to do with the compounds found within them and how they behave in your body. We’ve rounded up the top cancer-fighting foods to add to your diet and why they’re so good for helping protect your health. 

RELATED: The Top Foods to Avoid to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Cancer-Fighting Properties of Food

One thing anti-cancer foods have in common is that they’re all rich sources of antioxidants. These are compounds that help protect your cells from stress and damage that can otherwise promote disease. 

We’re exposed to harmful free radicals every day through food, mental stress, environmental factors, and pollutants, which put stress on our cells. Antioxidants help block that stress from wreaking havoc by neutralizing free radicals and making them less problematic.

Anti-cancer foods also tend to contain compounds and nutrients that have anti-inflammatory characteristics. This is important because ongoing inflammation is linked to a higher risk of obesity and related chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

RELATED: 5 Lifestyle Strategies to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

10 Research-Backed Anti-Cancer Foods 

#1 Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that give them their characteristic taste and smell. When chewed or chopped, glucosinolates are broken down into compounds called indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane

These have been extensively studied for their ability to help prevent cancer from developing and progressing. They do this by neutralizing carcinogens, triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, and suppressing inflammation. 

Plus, cruciferous vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which support overall health and bolster your body’s defense system against diseases like cancer. 

Eat more of these:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage

#2 Berries

If you love colorful, juicy berries, you’ll be happy to learn that they’re one of the best anti-cancer foods available. Berries are rich in phytochemicals, particularly flavonoids like anthocyanins, flavonols, and ellagic acid, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

These compounds not only help protect your cells from damage and inflammation, but they also prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells. Furthermore, berries are abundant in vitamins C and E, as well as fiber, which support your immune system and gut health. 

Studies have shown that regular consumption of berries is associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

Eat more of these: 

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries

#3 Leafy Greens

Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, leafy greens are key players in cancer prevention. They’re particularly rich in carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as flavonoids and chlorophyll, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Additionally, leafy greens are high in fiber, which helps regulate digestion, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. 

Certain compounds found in leafy greens have been shown to keep cancer cells from growing and spreading, even making cancer cells die.

Eat more of these: 

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Red lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens

#4 Tomatoes

A key component of tomatoes’ cancer-fighting prowess is lycopene, an antioxidant responsible for their bright red hue. Lycopene has been extensively studied for its ability to neutralize free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and inhibit cancer cell growth. 

Tomatoes also contain vitamin C, potassium, and folate, which help support cellular function and immune health. 

Numerous studies have shown that eating tomatoes and tomato-based products (like salsa, tomato juice, marinara, or tomato paste) lowers the risk of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Plus, cooked and canned tomatoes have more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

#5 Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions are members of the allium vegetable family. They contain organosulfur compounds — such as allicin, diallyl sulfide, and diallyl disulfide — which are responsible for their pungent taste and smell. These compounds help prevent cancer cell growth and progression and trigger cancer cell death. 

Additionally, garlic and onions contain flavonoids, antioxidants, and other compounds that fight inflammation, support immunity, and seek out harmful free radicals. 

Studies have consistently shown that regularly eating garlic and onions is associated with a reduced risk of stomach, colorectal, and breast cancers.  

#6 Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds make a simple, filling, and nutritious snack. They’re full of polyphenols, phytosterols, and omega-3 fatty acids. The high levels of antioxidants in nuts and seeds help protect your cells from DNA damage and mutations that can lead to cancer development. 

Plus, their fiber content promotes digestive health and helps regulate insulin levels, which may lower the risk of certain cancers. Additionally, some nuts and seeds contain compounds called lignans and ellagic acid, which have anti-cancer properties.

Eat more of these: 

  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Flax seeds

#7 Green Tea

If you’re looking for a perfect warm beverage to end your day with, look no further than green tea. Rich in polyphenols, particularly catechins such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), green tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Green tea polyphenols can help protect cells from DNA damage caused by carcinogens and free radicals. Research supports the association between green tea consumption (4 cups per day has been proven beneficial) and a lower risk of breast, liver, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers. 

#8 Fatty Fish

Certain types of fish are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. 

EPA and DHA help regulate immune function and gene expression, offering protective effects against cancer. Fatty fish are also rich in nutrients like vitamin D and selenium, which have anti-cancer properties

Studies show that making fatty fish a regular part of your diet (aim for twice a week) is associated with a reduced risk of various cancers. Interestingly, some research even shows that omega-3s may improve how well certain cancer treatments work for some patients.

Eat more of these: 

  • Halibut
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel

If you don’t eat fish or seafood, you can still obtain the direct benefits of EPA and DHA from an algae-based omega-3 supplement.

#9 Turmeric

Turmeric is a golden spice with many culinary and medicinal uses. Its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects come from its main active compound called curcumin. 

Curcumin has been shown to prevent cancer cells and suppress the growth of tumors. Research shows that it may also interfere with the activity of genes and proteins associated with inflammation and cancer spread. 

Research shows that curcumin is a simple and effective way to support your body’s defenses against certain types of cancer (and other diseases).

#10 Legumes

Legumes include beans, peas, and lentils, including soy foods. They’re packed with fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and vitamins, which collectively contribute to their anti-cancer properties

The high fiber content of legumes supports digestive health and helps regulate insulin levels. Additionally, legumes are rich in phytochemicals like flavonoids and saponins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Legumes are also high in folate (vitamin B9), which supports DNA synthesis and repair, reducing the risk of certain cancers. Furthermore, they are a main staple food in the Blue Zones, areas around the world where people regularly live to be 100 years old and in good health.

Eat more of these: 

  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame

Supporting Your Body With Nutrient-Rich Food Choices

Practicing good nutrition is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, including lowering your risk for diseases. Add more of these anti-cancer foods to your routine and reap the (tasty) benefits!