Keeping track of the foods that prevent – or cause – cancer can get pretty
confusing. So to lower your risk, what should you really be doing?
Filling up on fiber? Shunning nitrates? Stocking your fridge with only organic
We got some concrete answers from Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition
advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) in Washington,
Got a question about diet or nutrition? WebMD asked the experts for answers
about eating healthy and losing weight.
Do preservatives, nitrates, food additives, and other food chemicals cause cancer?
You know, we hear a lot of news stories linking various additives and
chemicals and food colorings with cancer risk. It’s certainly possible. But at
this point, the evidence hasn’t shown any real connection. In fact, some
preservatives seem to be antioxidants, which could mean they’re actually
I think people can get a little too preoccupied with these theoretical
connections when they would be better off focusing on better established ways
of reducing their risk of cancer -- weight loss, exercise, and a healthier
Why do fruits, vegetables, and plant foods seem to protect against cancer?
Plant foods probably offer protection in a number of ways. They provide
thousands of phytochemicals, which are natural plant compounds. Many are
antioxidants, which seem to protect and repair our DNA. Some antioxidants
appear to affect cancer cells, controlling how they grow or spread. The
vitamins and minerals in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans also help
produce and repair DNA and control cell growth.
Some foods can have a more direct effect on specific types of cancer. For
instance, plant foods contain fiber, which seems to lower the risk of colon
There’s also an indirect benefit to eating whole foods that are low in fat.
They tend to be less calorically dense, so we can fill up on them without
getting so many calories.
Are organic foods the best defense against cancer?
Eating organic foods is fine as an option, but it’s not necessarily
preferable in terms of lowering cancer risk. You can find studies showing that
organic foods are higher in nutrients and protective phytochemicals, but you
can find just as many showing they're not. Although people worry about
pesticide residues, not all conventionally grown, nonorganic crops contain
them. Of those that do, less than 1% have them in amounts above the current
strict tolerance levels.
If you prefer organic, that’s fine. But organic fruits and vegetables do
cost more. So if you’re eating fewer fruits and vegetables just so you can
afford buying them organic, that’s not a good idea. People shouldn’t feel like
they’re putting themselves at risk if they’re eating conventionally grown