Fruits and vegetables for cancer patients

Are you eating your “five-a-day”?
How many fruits did you eat this week?
Eat a rainbow!

We have all been told to eat more fruits and vegetables. We may even have been the ones to suggest others to increase their consumption. But what is it about fruits and vegetables that make them special? What is the research behind their benefits? How can they be helpful for those diagnosed with cancer?


Rich in vitamins and carbohydrates and other nutrients

Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of carbohydrates, vitamins and other valuable nutrients. Many of them also contain plenty of fibre and are high in antioxidants. Their nutritional contents, therefore, make them a necessary part of our diets. Furthermore, this is why doctors, dietitians and nutritionists often try to push us to eat more.

For cancer patients, fruits and vegetables can help manage side-effects, bring back taste, or improve appetite. When juiced, they give at least some of their natural nutrients; and if we are having trouble swallowing, we can make smoothies or creams out of them.

Beyond these everyday benefits, however, some research indicates that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can actually be beneficial against breast cancer. We have put together a summary below for you to explore:

  • We all have heard that the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits – while also providing delicious food combinations. This type of diet is generally characterised by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and olive oil. It was found that such a dietary pattern can benefit breast cancer patients because of the large quantities of fruits and vegetables it contains. In particular, adopting the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, as shown in a recent study.
  • Research published in September 2016 focused on patients with breast cancer who consumed foods high in polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds found in natural plant food sources with antioxidant properties, and are found in  tea, vegetables (onion & broccoli) and fruits (apples and citrus fruits). Scientists found some indications that eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day may help prevent breast cancer recurrence.
  • Scientists discovered that pomegranate juice may work against metastatic processes in breast cancer cells. One specific study revealed that juice from pomegranates (and 3 of its components) could potentially contribute towards preventing cancer progression. You can read the abstract of the 2012 research paper here.
  • Furthermore, another study has shown that high vegetable and fruit consumption, in combination with physical activity, may lead to improved survival in breast cancer patients. Interestingly, this association was so much linked with patients’ weight: there was no apparent effect of obesity on survival, at least among those who led a healthy lifestyle.



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What types of fruits and vegetables are most helpful?

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens and chicory contain large amounts of fibre, folate and a wide range of carotenoids. Carotenoids in particular can be protective against cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. Furthermore, dark green leafy vegetables contain vitamins C and K, iron and calcium.
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts are known to contain phytochemicals with antioxidant, antiestrogen and chemopreventive properties.
  • Citrus fruits and their juices such as oranges, lemons and limes are excellent for our overall health due to their high vitamin-C content. Oranges can benefit the health of the skin, teeth, gums, and lymphatic system. Lemon can be used for treating the common cold, while lemon juice can help weight loss. As for limes, they may help prevent disorders such as scurvy, haemorrhoids and gout. Citrus fruits also contain flavonoids which can help in lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.


Cooking tips

The best way to cook vegetables is probably to steam them, as it leads to the lowest loss of nutrients like chlorophyll, soluble protein, soluble sugar, vitamin C, and glucosinolates. On the other hand, stir-frying and stir-frying/boiling is associated with the highest loss. Prefer cooking vegetables whole and not in pieces, as it is the best choice to preserve the nutrients. If you have to cut them, try large pieces.


One final thought…

Try this: keep fruits and vegetables where you can see them. This way, you are more likely to eat them!

For further information on breast cancer, read our articles on triple-negative breast cancer, diet and nutrition & Body Mass Index and breast cancer.

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