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Summer is the perfect time to pick up produce at the local farmer's market. Still dewy from the field, these just-picked fruits and vegetables are fresh and full of nutrients that may lower the risk of cancer, according to nutrition experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Stephanie Meyers, RD, LDN, CNSD, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber, says it is important to think local when buying fruits and vegetables in the summer. "The average fruit and vegetable travels fifteen hundred miles to get to the supermarket," says Meyers. "So if you're buying produce that is grown practically in your own backyard, there's a much better chance of buying something that is at its peak nutritional value, which means it will have the most cancer-fighting potential" The key, she says, is knowing what to look for.
"We know that the most effective way to fight cancer with nutrition is through a colorful plate," says Meyers. Why? Because the pigments that provide the fruit or vegetable with its rich color contain phytonutrients. These compounds help protect the plant and can be beneficial for humans. The thing to remember: the darker the color, the higher the cancer-fighting potential.
Some of Meyer's favorite summer foods include:
"Kale is my top choice to buy at the farmer's market because it's rich in a phytonutrient called indoles, which stimulate liver detoxification and help fight cancer," says Meyers. Indoles are found in the rich, dark green color of kale. Other members of the cruciferous family include broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Meyers points out that people who have diets rich in these vegetables have been found to have lower incidences of lung cancer, prostate cancer and stomach cancer. Kale that is cooked by steaming also may have cholesterol-lowering benefits.
There is nothing like a ripe tomato right off the vine. While tomatoes are available year-round in the supermarket, Meyers says in the summer try to buy tomatoes locally at markets and farm stands, where they likely will be at their nutritional peak. "Tomatoes are a great summer food because they are rich in a phytonutrient called lycopene, which has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer," explains Meyers.
A tip for getting the most nutritional value from tomatoes is to make them into a sauce. The lycopene is best absorbed when the tomato is cooked. So Meyers recommends loading up on tomatoes at the local market, cooking them into a sauce, and either canning or freezing it in order to enjoy the nutritional properties year round.
Carrots are another great choice at the farmer's market because they are rich in a phytonutrient called carotenoids. "As little as two servings a day of carotenoids have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer," says Meyers.
What other foods are rich in carotenoid? Think orange.
Meyers says that carotenoid in pill form does not have the same protective properties as carotenoids found in whole foods. In fact, that is true of many nutrients. To get the healthiest boost, Meyers says it is best to eat the food in its whole form.
"Garlic is one of the things that people sometimes pass up at a local farmer's market but it's a wonderful opportunity to buy fresh locally," advises Meyers. She points out that most of the garlic grown in the world is from China, and with all the time needed to transport it to the United States, the nutrients degrade rapidly. "So we really want people to minimize the time between the field and the plate to get the most anti-cancer benefit," stresses Meyers. In garlic, it is a phytonutrient called allyl sulfides.
Berries in general are great. In the summer, look for strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. In the fall, cranberries have their highest nutritional value. The red or blue pigment of the berry itself contains powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins. They protect the plant and in turn can protect humans, especially lowering risk for breast cancer survivors.
Meyers says eating local is one of the best nutritional things people can do to protect themselves. She says above all to eat as much color as possible, and as soon as possible after harvest, to get the most anti-cancer benefit.