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Phytochemicals, Antioxidants, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Nutrition to reduce cancer risk:

The scientific community is continually studying the role of diet in the development of cancer. Many results are preliminary and more is being learned every day. Research is discovering that intake of fruits, vegetables, and cereal grains may interfere with the process of developing cancer of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, prostate, and rectum. In addition to reducing the risk of developing cancer, the risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases might also be prevented by eating more fruits and vegetables. There is also evidence that total fat intake of greater than 30 percent of total calories can increase the risk of developing some cancers. This is especially true when total fat intake includes saturated fat and possibly polyunsaturated fat. The Food Guide Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 5 A Day for Better Health Campaign are good sources for nutritional information.

What foods help to prevent cancer?

Although research studies are inconclusive at this time, preliminary evidence suggests that some components of food may play a role in decreasing the risk of developing cancer, including phytochemicals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

What are phytochemicals (or phytonutrients)?

Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple), whole grains/cereals, and beans containing phytochemicals may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food. They may act as antioxidants or nutrient protectors, or prevent carcinogens (cancer causing agents) from forming.

What are specific sources of phytochemicals?

The list below is a partial list of phytochemicals found in foods:

Phytochemicals cannot be found in supplements and are only present in food. Foods high in phytochemicals include the following:

There is no recommended dietary allowance for phytochemicals. Eat a variety of foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, to ensure you are getting adequate amounts in your diet.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that inhibit the oxidation process and act as protective agents. They protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals (by-products of the body’s normal chemical processes). Free radicals attack healthy cells, which changes their DNA, allowing tumors to grow. Research is underway to investigate the role of antioxidants in decreasing the risk of developing cancer.

Antioxidants include:

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C has recently been increased to 75 milligrams per day for women and 90 milligrams per day for men. If you smoke cigarettes, it is recommended to increase your intake of vitamin C to 100 milligrams per day.

Since some sources of vitamin E are high in fat. A synthetic form of a vitamin E is available as a supplement. Vitamin E supplementation is probably not needed for most individuals because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and is stored in our bodies. Very high doses of vitamin E can also interfere with the way other fat-soluble vitamins work. Also, large doses of vitamin E from supplements are not recommended for people taking blood thinners and some other medications, as the vitamin can interfere with the action of the medication. To make sure you are meeting your needs, eat a varied diet that includes whole-wheat breads and cereals.

There is no recommended dietary allowance for antioxidants. Eat a variety of foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, to ensure you are getting adequate amounts in your diet.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Researchers are studying the effects omega-3 fatty acids have on delaying or reducing tumor development in breast and prostate cancer. Since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, we must get them from food or supplements. The omega-3 fatty acids include:

Sources and recommended servings of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

The American Cancer Society recommends avoiding omega-3 fatty acid supplements in the following situations:

Stanford Medicine Resources:

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