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Seven (Easy to Find) Foods That May Help Prevent Cancer

Reach for these super foods to supercharge your odds of staying ahead of cancer and maximizing your health.

Strawberries: Rich in Antioxidants

Berries scoop up disease-fighting honors like kids in sports collect trophies: They just keep multiplying. Research points to possible protection against heart disease and memory decline as well as cancer. In a recent study, berry extracts slowed the growth of cancer cells; specifically, strawberry and black raspberry extracts had the greatest impact on colon cancer cells.

Strawberries are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C and ellagic acid. In laboratory tests, ellagic acid seems to have anticancer properties that rev up enzymes, which destroy cancer-causing substances and slow the growth of tumors. They also contain flavonoids, which suppress an enzyme that damages DNA and has been linked to lung cancer. Other types of berries, all rich in flavonoids, deserve a spot on your plate, too: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Blueberries are packed with anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and are one of the most powerful antioxidants, Fahey says. He considers berries and cruciferous vegetables the most powerful protective foods.

Eating fruit, including berries, probably decreases the risk of lung cancer and could prevent cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, according to a review of hundreds of clinical studies conducted for the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Carrots: Best Eaten Cooked

One of the easiest vegetables to love, carrots are packed with disease-fighting nutrients. They contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant scientists believe may protect cell membranes from toxin damage and slow the growth of cancer cells. And carrots deliver other vitamins and phytochemicals that might guard against cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.

Some studies suggest carrots protect against cervical cancer, perhaps because they supply antioxidants that could battle HPV (human papilloma virus), the major cause of cervical cancer. Plus, carrots contain falcarinol, a natural pesticide.

Scientists in England found that rats given falcarinol were less likely to develop cancerous tumors.

Cooked carrots supply more antioxidants than raw, according to a report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. If you're cooking carrots, leave them whole while steaming or boiling, and cut them after they're done. That reduces the loss of nutrients, including falcarinol, and gives them a sweeter taste as well.

Spinach: A Super Carotenoid Source

Maybe you've heard that lutein, an antioxidant, is good for your eyes. Research is by no means confirmed, but it might also play a role in guarding against cancer.

Spinach is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that remove unstable molecules called free radicals from your body before they damage it. They're found in spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, and some studies show they could protect against cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. An NIH/AARP study of more than 490,000 people found that those who ate more spinach were less likely to develop esophageal cancer. Some studies suggest the carotenoids in spinach and other foods reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, lung, and colorectal cancer, too.

Throw in folate and fiber, which researchers think might trim the risk of certain cancers, and you've got nutritional powerhouse in every dark green leaf. Folate helps your body produce new cells and repair DNA, and is especially important for women of childbearing age because it can prevent neural tube defects in a developing fetus. You'll get the most lutein from raw or lightly cooked spinach. Enjoy it in a salad, steamed, or sautéed with garlic and olive oil, or stirred into soups. For a change, substitute kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, or romaine lettuce. But spinach is the star. "Out of the leafy greens, spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense," Doyle says.

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