Best Anti-Cancer Foods

Most people know that there are certain steps you can take to safeguard yourself from different kinds of cancer.

For example, it’s widely known that refraining from smoking cuts down your odds of getting lung cancer, that preventive screenings like colonoscopies that can detect polyps that doctors can remove before they become cancerous can diminish your chances of contracting colorectal cancer and that regular dermatology check-ups can protect you from the most serious consequences of skin cancer by detecting the disease early, allowing for timely treatment.

Eating a healthy diet can also help shield you from cancer, says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Miami who’s a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

While no single food is going to provide 100% protection from any type of cancer, research suggests that an anti-cancer foods list would lean heavily toward plant-based foods. Avoiding processed meats is also recommended in accordance with a plant-based diet by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

To stave off cancer with diet, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a plant-focused eating pattern, with plant foods such as vegetables, legumes and grains filling about two-thirds of your plate. The diet can also include moderate amounts of animal-based foods, as long as they’re no more than a third of each meal.

Kimberlain recommends eating five or more servings a day of plant foods and consuming 30 grams of fiber daily. It’s a good idea to include one or a combination of fruit, legumes and pulses, whole grains and non-starchy vegetables in each meal.

“Eating a balanced, varied diet is what’s shown to reduce the risk for cancer more than any one specific food,” she says.

10 Anti-Cancer Foods

Here are 10 foods that are anti-cancer:


Acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries are small, but pack a nutritional punch, Kimberlain says.

It’s important to eat a variety of berries, because each type of berry has a different variety of protective compounds, she says. For example, strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, while blackberries (which also contain a healthy amount of vitamin C) have lots of vitamin K.

Berries are also a great source of dietary fiber, which can help prevent constipation.

[See: Which Colon Cancer Screening Is Best?]

Broccoli and Other Cruciferous Vegetables

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants that research suggests protect healthy cells from disease caused by free radicals. Cruciferous veggies also have healthy amounts of vitamin C, which also helps shield healthy cells from free radicals. These types of vegetables also contain glucosinolates, natural compounds that help inhibit cancer enzymes and shield the body from inflammatory diseases.

Cruciferous vegetables include:


— Brussels sprouts.

— Cabbage.

— Chard.


— Kale.

— Mustard greens.

— Rutabaga.

— Turnips.

[See: Colon Cancer Diet.]


Your morning cup (or cups) of coffee may not only help you get going in the morning, research suggests it may also help protect you from cancer, says Maxine Smith, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. In particular, coffee may help guard against liver cancer by decreasing inflammation and injury to liver cells.

Research published in 2020 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that 16 different studies, including eight meta-analyses, “support an inverse association between coffee and cancer risk.” The meta-analyses consistently concluded that increasing coffee consumption by a cup of day was associated with a 15% to 20% risk reduction of hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.


Adding the spice cumin to your food can not only make it tastier, but may help ward off cancer. Research suggests that thymoquinone, the most abundant component of black cumin seed oil, has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that can help ward off cancer, says Julia S. Marnadi, a clinical dietitian at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Research published in May 2022 in Sage Journals found that thymoquinone and curcumin are associated with the death of breast cancer cells. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a separate spice. Turmeric is a mustard-yellow spice often used in yellow curry. Researchers concluded that the findings suggest that thymoquinone and curcumin could provide a “promising anti-cancer benefit against breast cancer.”


Consuming garlic and other allium vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cancer in both men and women, according to research published in 2019 in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology.

In addition to garlic, allium vegetables include:

— Leeks.

— Onions.

— Spring onions.

Legumes and Beans

High in fiber, lean protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, legumes and beans are good anti-cancer foods, Kimberlain says.

Research suggests that foods high in dietary fiber decrease the risk of colon cancer. Such foods also help reduce the risk of obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer.


— Edamame.

— Lentils.

— Soybeans.

— Peanuts.


— Lentils.

— Peas.


Consuming mushrooms

is associated with a lower risk of cancer, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Advances in Nutrition in 2021. Researchers reviewed 17 studies between 1966 and 2020. Mushrooms contain an antioxidant, ergothioneine, that helps protect cells from damage associated with increased cancer risk, Kimberlain says.

“The association between higher mushroom consumption and lower risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, may indicate a potential protective role for mushrooms in the diet,” researchers wrote.

Olive oil

Consuming olive oil is associated with a decreased risk for cancer, according to a large meta-analysis published in PLoS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal. “Olive oil consumption seems to exert beneficial actions in terms of cancer prevention,” researchers wrote.

There are several types of olive oil available on U.S. store shelves, including:


This fruit contains lycopene, which is a carotenoid shown to fight cancer and what gives the tomato its red color, Kimberlain says. It’s important to keep in mind you have to cook tomatoes to release the lycopene and make it available to the body to use.

Whole grains

A large meta-analysis

published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients suggests that consuming whole grains is associated with a decreased cancer risk. Whole-grain foods are high in fiber, which helps promote satiety and helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Foods with whole grains include:

— Oats.

— Whole-wheat bread.


[SEE: 13 Tips for a Mammogram.]

Anti-Cancer Diet

To stave off cancer with diet, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a plant-focused eating pattern, with plant foods such as vegetables, legumes and grains filling about two-thirds of your plate. The diet can also include moderate amounts of animal-based foods, as long as they’re no more than a third of each meal.

Several diets fit the bill, including:

A vegetarian diet (with or without dairy foods or fish).

A Mediterranean-style diet (which includes poultry and fish).

Switch to a healthier diet gradually, so it won’t feel restrictive and you’ll have a better chance at sustaining the eating pattern. A food diary may be helpful to track what you’re eating and how your diet is improving.

Don’t feel you can’t cheat now and then. “It’s not like eating a piece of bacon will give you cancer. But don’t make it a major component or base of your food pyramid,” says Dr. Dale Shepard, an oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.. “Moderation in everything is reasonable.”

Anti-Cancer Tips

Start buying healthier foods. Keep fresh produce, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains on hand so you’ll have real (not processed) foods available when you’re hungry.

Pay attention to food labels. Avoid or limit foods with high levels of added sugars.

Use healthier cooking methods. Prepare foods by baking, broiling or poaching rather than frying or charbroiling.

Stay hydrated. Consume water rather than sweetened beverages.

Avoid or limit alcohol consumption. The guidelines advise no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

It takes more than a healthy diet to try to avoid cancer. You also need to live a healthy lifestyle that includes weight control.

Other important components of a healthy lifestyle include:

Daily exercise. Aim for 30 minutes per day or get at least 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (like brisk walking) per week. Adequate sleep. Try to get seven or eight hours per night. Stress reduction. Chronic stress triggers chronic inflammation. Meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga can help reduce stress. Stop smoking. Smoking is directly related to many kinds of cancer. All aspects of a healthy lifestyle work together and give you a better chance at warding off cancer.

“There is no one thing,” Shepard says. “It’s all about balance.”

More from U.S. News

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Kidney Cancer Symptoms

Breast Cancer Nutrition Myths

Best Anti-Cancer Foods originally appeared on

Update 03/22/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up