Nutrition Before During and After Cancer

Information on nutritional needs for cancer patients

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You May not Know


You already know that veggies, fruits and other plant foods rich in vitamins and minerals are a key part of a cancer-preventive diet. But there are lots of other less familiar substances that help ward off cancer that you may not know.


Quercetin is a member of a large group of phytochemicals called flavonoids. It can help prevent or reduce chronic inflammation, a condition linked to increased cancer risk. Quercetin can also act as an antioxidant, helping to keep a balance between antioxidants and free radicals in our body – important for good health and lower cancer risk.

Quercetin in Foods

You can get quercetin from apples, tea, onions, and other vegetables. Apple peels contain most of that fruit’s quercetin, so don’t throw away that peel.


Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is another name for vitamin C. It protects our DNA from damage by trapping free radicals and keeping cancer-causing substances from forming. It also helps other compounds maintain their antioxidant power.

Ascorbic Acid in Food

Beyond oranges and grapefruit, foods rich in vitamin C include red and green bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, cabbage and cauliflower.



Allicin is responsible for the pungent odor and flavor of garlic. Allicin and related compounds in garlic keep cell growth in check and help maintain healthy cell turnover. In laboratory studies, these components have shown the ability to slow or stop the growth of tumors in prostate, bladder, colon and stomach tissue.

Allicin in Food

Garlic contains allicin and related substances. Be sure to chop, slice or mince garlic 10 minutes before cooking to allow the enzymes in garlic to help create the active allicin compound.



Sulforaphane comes from the breakdown of glucosinolates which are sulfur containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli. Sulforaphane may help prevent cancer by helping the body get rid of carcinogens and turning on genes to suppress tumors, slowing cancer growth.

Sulforaphane in Food

While broccoli is probably the best known cruciferous vegetable, others like brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale also contain glucosinolates that are being studied for their role in cancer prevention.

cruciferous vegetable


Phylloquinone and menaquinones are two forms of vitamin K. Research is underway looking at the potential for menaquinones to inhibit growth of certain cancers. Vitamin K is best known for its role in helping blood clotting. It is also involved in building bones and may help prevent the calcification (hardening) of blood vessels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Phylloquinone and Menaquinones in Food

Phylloquinone is found in leafy green vegetables such as kale and swiss chard as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Vitamin K is fat soluble so cooking these veggies in a little oil will help with absorption. Menaquinones are found in animal products like meat, eggs, and cheese. They are also found in fermented foods and made by our gut bacteria.




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A New Rainbow of Color

There’s a world of healthy cancer-preventive foods out there. Use these international favorites as an introduction to new spices, fruits, vegetables and more. It’s a great way to add variety to daily meals and learn to enjoy new foods.

Smørrebrød- Denmark

Smørrebrød is a traditional open-faced sandwich. It’s often made with dark whole-grain rye bread and topped with nutrient-rich beets (or other veggies), herring and a poached egg. Use a high-fiber rye bread, which plays a role in reducing cancer risk. Top with a few oven roasted root veggies and herring – rich in omega-3 fatty acids and an excellent source of vitamin D.


Cortado – Spain, Portugal, Latin America

From the Spanish word cortar, meaning cut, a cortado is espresso cut with milk. It’s a small (3-4 ounce) drink usually made of a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of milk added to espresso. The caramel sweetness of the espresso paired with the steamed milk means you may not even need to add sugar.


Paella – Spain

This savory one-pan rice dish is as varied as the chefs that make them. Paella (pronounced pah-ey-yuh) essentials are rice flavored with saffron and garlic, mixed with veggies and protein and cooked in a shallow pan. Traditional paella uses chicken or rabbit, white beans, and snails. Other variations include shrimp, mussels, and clams.


Mercimek Köftesi- Red Lentil Kofte (Turkey)

Köfte refers to ground meat (lamb or beef) or vegetable balls seasoned with plenty of herbs and spices. The vegetarian version is made with red lentils and fine bulgur, sprinkled with parsley and green onions. Red lentil legumes provide protein and bulgur is a whole grain packed with fiber, which is linked to decreased risk of colorectal cancer, or add some cooked lentils and your favorite spices.

Mercimek Köftesi

Pho – Vietnam

Go to any home or market in Vietnam and you’ll likely find some variation of this noodle dish. Pho consists of a flavorful clear broth, small amounts of thinly cut meat such as beef or chicken, and the namesake linguini-shaped rice noodles – garnished with herbs, green onions, and bean sprouts piled high on top.


Cherimoya – Central and South America

You can now find this sweet and creamy fruit at many US markets. Tasting like a cross between a banana and pineapple, cherimoya is known as the ice cream fruit. A cherimoya will give you plenty of fiber, vitamins C, vitamin B6, riboflavin and potassium. Eat it fresh, add to fruit salads or chill it and eat it with a spoon. You can remove the seeds, freeze for 4 to 5 hours then blend to make a creamy cherimoya sorbet.


Mojo Sauce– Cuba

Mojo refers to any sauce made from garlic, olive oil, spices and citrus such as orange juice. It adds flavor to everything from seafood, pork and of course, Cuban sandwiches. Create your own mojo marinade with an assortment of herbs and spices–cilantro, oregano, cumin and garlic.

Mojo Sauce


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Foods That Fight Cancer

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard are excellent sources of fiber, folate and a wide range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, along with saponins and flavonoids.


According to AICR’s (American Institute of Cancer Research) second expert report, foods containing carotenoids probably protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. Foods containing folate decrease risk of pancreatic cancer and that foods containing dietary fiber probably reduce one’s chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Researchers believe that carotenoids seem to prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants removing potentially dangerous “free radicals” from the body before they can do harm. Some laboratory research has found that the carotenoids in dark green leafy vegetables can inhibit the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells, skin cancer cells, lung cancer and stomach cancer.


Garlic belongs to the family of vegetables called Allium, which also includes onions, scallions, leeks and chives. According to AICR’s report, foods belonging to the allium family of vegetables probably protect against stomach cancer. Moreover, the evidence in the report shows that garlic, in particular, probably decreases one’s chances of developing colorectal cancer. The protective effect of garlic was shown to have a dose response relationship. In other words, highest exposure to the food showed the greatest decrease in risk.


These allium vegetables contain many substances now being studied for their anti-cancer effects, such as quercetin, allixin and a large group of organosulfur compounds that includes allicin, alliin and allyl sulfides.

In laboratory studies, components of garlic have shown the ability to slow or stop the growth of tumors in prostate, bladder, colon and stomach tissue. one garlic component, called diallyl disulfide, exerts potent preventive effects against cancers of the skin, colon and lung. Recently, this compound proved able to kill leukemia cells in the laboratory. A compound derived from garlic called ajoene has displayed similar activity. Components in Allium vegetables have slowed the development of cancer in several stages and at various body sites: stomach, breast, esophagus, colon and lung.


The tomato’s red hue comes chiefly from a phytochemical called lycopene. Tomatoes have attracted particular attention from prostate cancer researchers because lycopene and its related compounds tend to concentrate in tissues of the prostate.


AICR’s second expert report, found substantial and convincing evidence that foods containing lycopene probably protect against prostate cancer.

In animal models, consumption of tomato compounds has been linked to large decreases in prostate cancer risk. Moreover, there is evidence that this cancer-fighting potential is increased if tomatoes are consumed in a processed form that allows these natural compounds to be released and more easily absorbed, such as tomato sauce, tomato paste or tomato juice.

Tomato Juice

Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, together with a group of related compounds collectively called the “red family,” has displayed anti-cancer potential. In the laboratory, tomato components have stopped the proliferation of several other cancer cells types, including breast, lung, and endometrial.

Although the evidence suggests it is likely that foods containing lycopene, including tomatoes, offer cancer protection, AICR stresses the importance of eating a variety of plant foods to ensure the most protection against cancer development. No food in isolation can effectively lower cancer risk.