There are two ways that fruit and vegetables are thought to help protect against cancer:
- directly through specific anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) agents
- indirectly by helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
Fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help to protect your body against cancer. It is most likely the combination of these nutrients found in whole foods help to reduce the risk of certain cancers rather than one anti-cancer component.
Fruit and vegetables also protect against cancer indirectly by helping to maintain a healthy body weight. They are rich in nutrients and low in kilojoules and are therefore great food choices if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight. People who eat lots of fruit and vegetables are less likely to be overweight or obese.
Excess fat around the stomach and obesity are well documented risk factors for some cancers of the bowel, breast (post-menopausal), oesophagus, liver, kidney, gallbladder, pancreas, endometrium, ovary and prostate (advanced).
Are all fruit and veg protective?
Yes. However, there is no one ‘super’ fruit or vegetable that protects against cancer. They all contain varying amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, therefore it is important to eat a variety. Try and ‘eat a rainbow’ – eat as many different coloured fruit and vegies as possible, it will help keep your diet interesting and give your body the best protection.
Eating a combination of both cooked and raw vegetables is best, as there are some cancer-fighting agents which are better absorbed from cooked fruit or vegetables. Good methods of cooking include steaming, stir frying, grilling and roasting. These use as little water as possible preventing nutrients and vitamins leaching out into the water.
What happens if I have already been diagnosed with cancer?
Eating fruit and vegetables is not a cure for cancer. While there is some evidence that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is of no significant benefit if you already have cancer, it is very unlikely to be harmful. This is still an active area of research, however we do know that eating well and being active can help you feel better, have more energy and help reduce the risk of cancer returning.
What about fruit juice?
The cancer protective nutrients are preserved in fresh fruit and vegetable juices and some may be more available in juices than whole fruits and vegetables. However fibre is removed in most vegetable and fruit juices and also in dietary supplements. As fibre is thought to be protective against colon cancer, fruit and vegetables are best consumed whole, rather than juiced or as nutrients, in a supplement form.
Want to learn more?
Read more at eatittobeatit.com.au
Eat It To Beat It is Cancer Council NSW’s flagship nutrition program that helps promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables. Our website is packed full of healthy eating tips, resources and recipes – all from one single, reliable source.
¹International Agency for Research on Cancer (2003), IARC handbooks on cancer prevention, vol.8: Fruit and Vegetables, p.246. Lyon