Give Mealtime a Healthy Kick With These Cancer-Fighting Superfoods


Candice Schreiber gets excited when she tells people about the health benefits and culinary delights of nature’s bounty.

“A plant-based diet is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, phytochemicals and fiber. There is no one superfood that prevents cancer—good eating patterns over time that include the colors of the rainbow offer the best possible protection from disease,” says Schreiber, RD, CSO, LD, a clinical nutritionist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James)

As part of The James’ comprehensive approach to cancer care and prevention, Schreiber shares tips and recipes with patients and other members of the community that can help give their meals healthy, and delicious, kicks.

Here are some of the superfoods that Schreiber recommends for anyone interested in adding cancer-fighting flavor to their daily menus.

Leafy Greens: Watercress

The American Institute for Cancer Research lists leafy greens as one of the foods that fights cancer, Schreiber says, adding that they contain folate, carotenoids and flavonoids and are high in fiber, which has been shown to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. They’re also great in salads, soups and smoothies.

“On the list of powerhouse foods from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, watercress received the highest score in terms of nutrient density per calorie,” Schreiber says (Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens and spinach also received high marks). “It’s becoming more and more common and easier to find in the supermarket, and it has a nice, mild taste.”

Whole Grains: Go Ancient

Ancient whole grains, such as farro, wheat berries, amaranth and millet are making a comeback. They’re rich in fiber and also contain E and B vitamins, phytochemicals, minerals and healthy fats.

“You can use farro, wheat berries and millet in salads to bulk them up, and I like to do a grain bowl with one of these whole grains, along with roasted veggies, such as beets or squash, and some roasted chickpeas and some leafy greens, like kale.”

Amaranth, which is similar to porridge, is “great for breakfast,” according to Schreiber.

Legumes: Beans and Lentils

Legumes are high in protein and fiber as well as potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, folate, iron and phytochemicals, which makes them beneficial for cancer prevention and weight loss, according to Schreiber. 

“They fill you up faster with something very healthy and low in calories,” she says. “Try swapping them out for ground beef or chicken in recipes such as tacos or enchiladas. You can also puree white beans to thicken up your soup recipes instead of adding cream.”

Lentils are one of Schreiber’s favorite legumes. She recommends using them in chili, soup and casseroles, and as a meat substitute for sloppy joes, meatballs, meatloaf and burgers.

Herbs/Spices: Gingers and Turmeric

These are indeed the spice of life, with benefits that include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (chronic inflammation can sometimes lead to cancer).

Turmeric is a traditional Indian spice that can be used in and on many dishes, including curry, scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables, rice, soup, sautéed greens and in smoothies. Ginger, which can help cancer patients ease nausea, is great in stir fries and soup, and it also makes for a tasty tea.

Seeds: Flax

Seeds—such as chia, flax, pepitas, hemp and sunflower—are rich in phytochemicals, protein and fiber and have been linked to improved cardiovascular, digestive, immune and bone health. 

“I like to sprinkle them on salads—they add a nice crunch,” Schreiber says. “I recommend grinding flax seeds, otherwise they won’t get absorbed by the body, or you can find ground flax seeds at most stores.”

As great as they are, however, Schreiber suggests taking it easy when sprinkling seeds due to the potential for weight gain.

“They are high in calories and fat,” she says. “You don’t need a lot to get the health benefits.”

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