10 foods to prevent you from getting cancer

May 19, 2014

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Jonathan Sackier
Jonathan Sackier

  • Surgeon, Clinical Professor 
  • 30 years of healthcare experience 
  • Author of the “Fly Well” column in AOPA PILOT 
  • Flying since 15 years old, owns a Columbia 400 

Last week I had the pleasure to meet Drs. William and Vince Li who are the power behind the Angiogenesis Foundation. OK, another darn hundred dollar word—what does it mean? Well, a foundation is an organization that ... just joking! Angio refers to blood vessels, the tubes that carry blood around the body. And genesis? We all know that one, "to begin." Angiogenesis refers to the formation of new blood vessels, and the work of the foundation is to look into how it is that a malignant tumor grows and kills.  

We have to cast our mind back to the lab of one Dr. Judah Folkman, a visionary scientist who contributed much to our understanding of how a malignancy recruits new blood vessels. Yes, nasty cancers actually send out chemical messages that allow new vessels to branch into a tumor, bringing nutrients in and allowing evil cancer cells to escape and set up shop elsewhere. Cancer does its wretched work because cells grow way too fast and do not function as they are supposed to, thus damaging the host organ. Li worked with the illustrious and celebrated Folkman, and among many advances such as drugs to stop these traitorous vessels forming, it turns out there are certain foods we can eat that might actually slow down angiogenesis and thereby prevent malignant tumors from surviving. So read on. 

1. It seems like the old chestnut, I mean apple, is correct: An apple a day might actually keep the doctor away. Especially red apples. The fruit contains flavonols and procyanidins, and other fancy things that seem to impact the inflammatory process that can be involved in the birth of a new cancer. So take a bite of a juicy one or slurp down some of that cloudy apple cider, content in the knowledge that you are doing your bit to keep oncologists unemployed. Turns out that chestnuts are also good at this lark. 

2. Not only are grapes good for you, as is grape juice, but get this, so is wine! It seems like not only is there veritas in vino but maybe life as well. Some are more potent at fighting cancer than others, but it seems like a glass or two of Petit Verdot or Syrah may just help keep the man with the sickle at bay. I thought you would like this news—raise a glass to the researchers who nailed this nice piece of intel. Just don't go near your aircraft for a sensible time thereafter!

3. Green tea also has some potency in fighting cancer. Mind you, the evidence suggests you have to consume a fair amount, but it is calorie free, keeps you well-hydrated, and will fill you up and thereby may also help with weight control, which is also a good way to avoid malignant disease. 

4. I am a bit of a horror book and movie fan, and anyone who has seen or read Dracula knows the things that scare the undead—silver bullets, sunlight, religious artifacts, and garlic. It seems like the queen of the kitchen, as garlic is known, also keeps another wicked killer at bay. So chomp down on garlic in your cooking. I love roasting a whole clove, cutting the top off, and then eating the soft, caramelized center with a glass of wine. Yummy. 

5. While we are on the subject of spices, who has not walked through an airport terminal (I know, it is almost scandalous or for general aviation pilots to admit that they enter such a place!) and caught a whiff of the rich, enticing aroma of a Cinnabon store? One bun delivers 880 calories (according to the website), which is more than 50 percent of what I eat in a day, but at least one can feel sort of sanctimonious because it turns out that the key ingredient—cinnamon, not sugar—is a mighty cancer fighter. Perhaps there are healthier ways to get some of that particular flavor? 

6. I have always considered myself a spicy sort and love the food and culture of the Indian subcontinent. Anyone who has dined on the varied cuisines knows the love, care, and precision that goes into the typical range of dishes one might sample. A frequently opened spice container is the rich, golden turmeric, which finds its way into numerous preparations. It also finds its way into the cancer mechanism where it curries favor with me for sure.  

7. Chuck Berry was a real rocker. But you should not chuck berries out of your diet—they are good for you. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries—the full range. There is an old wives' tale, or more specifically an old pilots' tale, that dark-colored berries help with night vision. It is said to emanate from my native Britain because during World War II some Royal Air Force bomber pilots liked noshing on hand-picked berries and were rather accurate in delivering their ordnance during their night raids. Maybe they were just good at their jobs. But berries' cancer-fighting properties are no old wives' tale, so eat some berries.

8. "'Oranges and lemons' say the bells of St. Clements," so goes the nursery rhyme. Well chow down on these and other members of the citrus family, and maybe you can defer your family and loved ones hearing the bells toll at your funeral. 

9. Ever hear of magic mushrooms? Well, set aside thoughts of hallucinogenic funky fungi and harken to the potential of portobellos, benefit of buttons, or sheer power of shiitake to help battle cancer. 

10. We have to finish on a high. Chocolate. Does it get any better than this? Having told you wine is good for you, I am empowered to present you with this gift: So is chocolate! Quantity matters, so everything in moderation—except laughter, which although not a food also helps keep cancer at bay I reckon.  

If you want to know more, I encourage you to check out www.eattobeat.org, but in broad brush strokes, eat good-quality natural foods, avoid anything processed or packaged, and keep well informed as there is a lot of work being done in this space. Yes, there are scientists munching on chocolate and sipping a Pinot right now! 

Fly well, be well!