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  • Writer's pictureMerritt Tracy

Nutrition for cancer prevention - by Merritt Tracy

Merritt Tracy a health coach at The After Cancer

Lean, Clean, and Green: Increase green foods for cancer prevention and improved health

It can feel overwhelming to think about changing your diet and lifestyle! We all get accustomed to our regular routine, so cutting out foods or considering drastic shifts in our diets, can make anyone resistant to change. Why not start with a smaller step that feels more realistic, like incorporating powerhouse “green foods” with anti-cancer properties that you may already enjoy? Specifically, I’m talking about dark leafy greens, cruciferous greens, and green tea. Let’s explore the benefits of these lean, clean, and green foods and why you should consider boosting them in your everyday meals. 

Studies show that people who regularly consume dark, leafy green, and cruciferous vegetables have a lower risk of cancer, but most Americans are deficient in both. Increasing these green vegetables in your diet is a great place to start making a shift. Green tea joins the ranks of these cancer-fighting greens with its rich antioxidants and polyphenols. These three types of green foods are not only important for cancer prevention, but they also have benefits in weight loss, hormone health, and reducing inflammation. Pretty cool, right?! Let’s take a closer look.

Dark, Leafy Greens

Loaded with vitamins and minerals, yet low in calories, leafy greens are the epitome of nutrient-dense foods. Dark, leafy greens contain fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and plenty of other phytonutrients. Carotenoids, which give these greens their deep, dark color, are powerful antioxidants that have been shown in research to boost immunity and help protect DNA from free radicals that can cause cancer.

Try a variety of dark, leafy greens such as:

  • Spinach

Bonus! These dark, leafy greens are also considered cruciferous vegetables:

  • Kale 

  • Arugula 

  • Swiss chard 

  • Collard greens 

  • Turnip greens 

  • Cabbage 

  • Bok choy 

  • Mustard greens

One of the fantastic benefits of dark, leafy greens is that you can add them to almost anything. Try a variety of dark, leafy greens in smoothies, salads, soups, fresh-pressed juices, sautés, wraps, omelets, and stir-fries. 

Be sure to check with your doctor if you have kidney stones or if you are on blood thinners. Dark, leafy greens may be a concern in these cases. 

Cruciferous Greens

Cruciferous vegetables are known for their cancer-fighting compounds, and they can be a delicious addition to your diet. Cruciferous vegetables contain different types of compounds including indoles and isothiocyanates that are activated with chewing, digestion, or cooking. These compounds have been shown in laboratory studies to reduce inflammation, cause cancer cell death (apoptosis), and stop tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis). Human studies have had mixed results, but research continues on these superfoods.[4]  

Another benefit of cruciferous vegetables are their hormone-balancing effects. They contain diindolylmethane, or DIM for short. DIM helps to regulate estrogen in the body and has been shown to be beneficial in women with PMS, PMDD, perimenopause, and breast cancer. This property of cruciferous vegetables may also benefit those with thyroid or prostate cancers.

In addition to the cruciferous greens listed above, try these options:

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Kohlrabi

While technically, these cruciferous vegetables aren’t green, they have many of the same benefits:

  • Cauliflower

  • Turnips

  • Radishes

My favorite way to eat cruciferous vegetables is to roast them. Try roasting some cruciferous vegetables on the weekend and enjoying them throughout the week. 

Rosemary Roasted Vegetables

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

  • Cut a variety of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts in large pieces and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet (or two depending on how many you have).

  • Drizzle with avocado oil and add salt, pepper, and rosemary. Use a large spoon to toss them so the oil is evenly distributed. 

  • Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges of the vegetables are browned. 

Green Tea

There are so many benefits to green tea! Green tea contains the catechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG for short. This powerful antioxidant has been researched for its potential benefits in multiple health conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s.

Sipping a cup of tea is soothing and has a calming effect on the nervous system. It’s a great way to relax and unwind. That’s benefit enough, but it may also help women with one of their biggest complaints – abdominal fat. A 2022 study found that women with high consumption of green tea had a 44% lower chance of abdominal obesity.

Green tea comes in a variety of options. Experiment with some of these favorites to find what you like best:

  • Jasmine 

  • Sencha

  • Matcha

  • Gunpowder

  • Dragonwell

Enjoy a hot or iced cup of green tea in the morning or afternoon as a refreshing alternative to regular tea or coffee. You can also experiment with green tea-infused recipes such as matcha smoothies. 

Embrace the power of green foods!

Making small, sustainable changes to your diet can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. By embracing the power of green foods, you not only enhance your nutrition, but you also take a proactive step to improve your health and reduce your risk of cancer. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection. So, whether you’re sipping on green tea or savoring a kale salad, each positive choice contributes to a healthier lifestyle. Cheers to a lean, clean, and green journey to better health! 


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