Five foods that boost immunity and help prevent cancer

Including foods like broccoli and mushrooms in your diet regularly can boost your defences against cancer, and help you feel healthier every day
By Julie Daniluk, R.H.N.
Five foods that boost immunity and help prevent cancer Julie Daniluk

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One in nine women will face breast cancer in their lifetime, and one in 29 will lose their fight. Have a thought about how breast cancer touches your life — when you go through your circle of friends, it is surprising how the statistics show true. I have two friends, a respected teacher, and even an uncle who have all coped with breast cancer — most breast cancer patients are indeed women, but men can be affected as well.

It is easy to get overwhelmed when you think about the disease, but the good news is that nutrition and lifestyle changes can help you beat the odds and make you feel healthier and more vital in your day-to-day life. Naturopath Sat Dharm Kar has created The Healthy Breast Program, which empowers women with tools that are easy and nourishing. One of the first steps is looking at how our diet can help us detoxify xenoestrogens — the synthetic compounds in our environment like pesticides, petroleum, cleaning products, and even our cosmetics. These xenoestrogens have been linked to hormonal disruptions that could be related to the development of cancers later on.

Whole, healing foods like seeds, Asian mushrooms, green vegetables, and herbs have the power to give your immune system what it needs to fight cancer cells. Have a look at five amazing examples of superfoods that can be the heroes in your diet this fall, and a recipe that will help you get them into your diet:

Five cancer-fighting foods

1. Broccoli: A compound in this vegetable was shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in lab tests. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain high amounts of a compound named sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has the ability to inhibit the division of breast cancer cells and prevent their initial growth. Sulforaphane is also found in cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

2. Sea vegetables: Seaweed contains high amounts of naturally occurring iodine. This mineral is important for proper thyroid function, but it's also shown success in fighting the growth of breast cancer cells in lab tests.

3. Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps the body repair cell damage and eliminate harmful debris that fosters the growth of cancer cells. Selenium is especially important for the prevention of the inflammation that accompanies breast and bone cancers.

4. Herring: Herring contain zinc and omega-3 fatty acids that boost the body's antioxidant capacity and improve cell-membrane strength and permeability. This means that healthy cells can stay strong under the stress of conventional cancer treatments.

5. Mushrooms: Oyster mushroom extracts have been shown to inhibit the growth of breast-cancer cells by stopping the cell-division cycle. This can prevent the metastasis of cancer and aid in its prevention.

Broccoli seaweed salad

Recent studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland have shown that broccoli contains high amounts of the compound sulforaphane, which has anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial benefits. Take care not to overcook the broccoli so that it maintains some crispness and more of its nutritional value. Hemp or flax oil provide the healthy omega-3 fats in this recipe.

1 cup (250 mL) hijiki or thinly cut wakame seaweed
1 cup (250 mL) large onion, chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) filtered water
1 bunch broccoli
1/2 cup (125 mL) almonds, chopped
2 tbsp (30 mL) hemp or flax oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) toasted sesame oil
½ tsp (2.5 mL) umeboshi plum paste or ¼ tsp (1 mL) sea salt
2 tbsp (30 mL) freshly grated ginger

1. Place seaweed in a bowl and cover with water; let stand.

2. Sauté onions in olive oil, in a covered saucepan over low-medium heat, until they are translucent.

3. Combine water with the onions and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Add broccoli, stir, and cook covered on low heat for approximately 10 minutes, until the broccoli is heated through, but is still a vibrant green colour.

5. Remove the pot from the heat. Drain the soaking water from the seaweed (you can save it for a soup stock).

6. Transfer the veggies and softened seaweed to a large bowl.

7. In a mason jar add the flax or hemp oil, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, umeboshi plum paste, and ginger. Shake well until blended and pour over veggies.

Makes four servings

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon-to-be-published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.

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