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Eat Your Veggies and Fight Cancer, Too

Anticancer shopping list: broccoli sprouts, cabbage, garlic

Cabbage: Eat It Raw

Polish women are more likely to get breast cancer if they emigrate to the U.S. Why, wondered Dorothy Rybaczyk-Pathak, PhD, of the University of New Mexico. She guessed it must have something to do with changing dietary habits.

A likely suspect: cabbage. Polish women traditionally consume 30 pounds of cabbage a year -- much of it in the form of raw sauerkraut, in salads, or in short-cooked side dishes. When they emigrate to America, they eat only 10 pounds of cabbage a year.

Cabbage -- like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and cauliflower -- is a cruciferous vegetable. When broken down by chewing, cabbage releases several biologically active products including compounds called glucosinolates and an enzyme called myrosinase. These products have anticancer properties.

For the greatest benefit, timing seems to be crucial. Rybaczyk-Pathak found that women who as teenagers ate the most raw cabbage were least likely to get breast cancer. But even women who didn't eat much cabbage as teens had a lower breast cancer risk if they ate a lot of raw cabbage as adults.

How much cabbage need a woman eat? Three or more servings a week of raw or short-cooked cabbage puts a woman in the lowest risk category.

Unfortunately, traditional long-cooked Polish dishes such as hunter's stew, pierogi, and cabbage rolls did not lower cancer risk.

Garlic Wards Off Cancer

Vegetables fight cancer. But meats cooked at high temperatures -- as in grilling or frying -- contain a cancer-causing chemical called PhIP.

A compound called diallyl sulfide or DAS is one of the things that gives garlic its pungent flavor. Now researchers led by Ronald D. Thomas, PhD, of Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, report that DAS counteracts the cancer-causing actions of PhIP.

In the lab, Thomas and colleagues added PhIP, DAS, or both to human breast cells. Sure enough, PhIP made the cells secrete high amounts of cancer-causing enzymes. But PhIP completely protected cells from this effect.

It's a long way from the test tube to the human diet. But if garlic protected humans at the same dose at which it protected cell cultures, Thomas says garlic would have to make up one one-thousandth of your diet.

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