Dana-Farber offers tips to fight cancer with your fork this holiday season


healthy-holiday-helpings_SPLASH

This time of year offers a cornucopia of cancer-fighting foods, and many of them will end up on the dinner table this holiday season.

Stephanie Meyers, RD, LDN, CNSD, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says many foods are at their nutritional peak now, so it's important to incorporate them into a healthy diet. The key, however, is to know what to look for and how to prepare it.

Pumpkin isn't just for pie

The jack-o-lantern that smiles so brightly on Halloween can also be a part of a holiday meal. Behind that grin may be one of the best kept secrets: pumpkins are packed with a cancer-fighting nutrient called carotenoid. Meyers says carotenoids have been linked to the prevention of colon, prostate, breast, and lung cancer.

Pumpkin isn't just for the holidays. Tips for eating it year-round:

  • When cooking it, choose "sweet" or "pie" pumpkins.
  • Eat it in soup, ravioli, and bread.

Other orange foods that are rich in carotenoids include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Squash, including acorn and butternut

Meyers stresses that eating foods rich in carotenoids, rather than taking carotenoid supplements in pill form, provides greater protective benefit.

An apple a day

There may be something to the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." Studies suggest that eating at least one apple a day can help prevent throat, mouth, colon, and lung cancer and possibly breast cancer.

Besides being crisp, sweet, and juicy, apples contain quercetin, a nutrient that protects cells' DNA from damage that could lead to the development of cancer.

During the holidays there are a lot of opportunities to eat apples, but watch out for apple pie. It may be a favorite, but an apple's cancer-fighting potential is diminished when it is peeled and then combined with extra sugar and fat. Meyers says stick to whole apples, cooked or raw, making sure to eat the skin whenever possible. That's the best source of nutrients.

Not just for the holidays

Cranberries are plentiful during the holidays. They are found in the cranberry sauce, dressing, and some favorite breads and desserts. They're at their peak this time of year, and that means their cancer-fighting nutrient, benzoic acid, is strongest.

Research suggests that benzoic acid can inhibit the growth of lung cancer, colon cancer, and some forms of leukemia.

Meyers encourages her patients to think of cranberries as a year-round favorite. She suggests buying them now, while they are at their nutritional best, and storing them in the freezer for later. This ensures getting the highest level of cancer protection all year long.

Color your world

Meyers says the key to finding cancer-fighting foods is to look for a lot of color. The brighter and richer the pigment, the higher the level of nutrients. So while shopping at the market, look for colorful produce like:

  • Pomegranates
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Peppers

"You want to load up your plate with as many colorful plant-based foods as you can," adds Meyers. "Eating a plant-based diet all year long is the best way to help lower your risk of cancer."

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

  • Email
  • Print
  • Share
  • Text
Highlight Glossary Terms
  • Media Contacts

    • For all inquiries, call 617-632-4090 and ask to speak to a member of the media team. Please direct emails to media@dfci.harvard.edu.