PROFESSOR ROBERT THOMAS presents his top 10 food heroes to help cut your risk ...

Most of us know it’s important for our health to eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables and herbs – and a great deal of focus has been placed on the important vitamins and minerals they supply.

Yet the crucial role played by phytochemicals — powerful chemical compounds contained in plants that play a vital part in reducing the risk of many chronic degenerative diseases — has often been overlooked.

Phytochemicals are amazing gifts from nature that give fruits and vegetables their diverse colours, tastes and aromas while playing an important role in supporting the immune system — and thereby reducing our risk of cancer, dementia, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and macular degeneration (or age-related sight loss) as well as protecting our skin, enhancing mood and brain function and helping with muscle repair.

Most of us know it¿s important for our health to eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables and herbs ¿ and a great deal of focus has been placed on the important vitamins and minerals they supply [File photo]

Most of us know it’s important for our health to eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables and herbs – and a great deal of focus has been placed on the important vitamins and minerals they supply [File photo]

They’re not just found in fruit and veg but also in legumes, nuts, spices and herbs.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) strongly recommends eating plenty of foods rich in phytochemicals, to protect ourselves from disease and help us recover from illness or surgery.

Researchers in Southern California found that women who consumed more than five portions of phytochemical-rich fruit and vegetables a day and participated in regular physical exercise had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence than those who stuck to the recommended ‘five-a-day’ guidelines.

Rather than patting ourselves on the back for eating a salad or a portion of broccoli every once in a while, it’s my belief we need to eat twice the recommended five-a-day of fruit, vegetables, legumes and herbs in order to get the nutrients we need.

What you eat can make a big difference to reducing your cancer risk, particularly if you harness the power of phytochemicals, so here’s my Top 10 prescription of foods you should eat one or more of EVERY DAY. More if you can. 

1) Cruciferous vegetables 

Our own research at the Primrose Unit at Bedford Hospital looking at the eating habits of 155,000 people over 12 years, showed a clear link between eating cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of cancer.

This includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, asparagus, watercress, Brussels sprouts, wasabi and horseradish.

For instance, broccoli protects us from harmful ingested toxins by helping to form the antioxidant enzyme GST, which is important in neutralising the harmful effects of pollutants, food additives and pesticides.

This group of vegetables is also rich in fibre, Vitamins C and K, minerals and other essential nutrients which provide multiple health benefits as well as being cancer-fighting.

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, asparagus, watercress, Brussels sprouts, wasabi and horseradish

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, asparagus, watercress, Brussels sprouts, wasabi and horseradish

2) Turmeric

Part of the ginger family, this spice is also rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. A powerful weapon against chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, it works by enhancing the actions of antioxidant enzymes.

Consumption of turmeric is linked to a lower risk of cancer in several studies.

A powerful weapon against chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, it works by enhancing the actions of antioxidant enzymes

A powerful weapon against chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, it works by enhancing the actions of antioxidant enzymes

3) Pomegranates

Appropriately sometimes called the King of Fruits, pomegranate is packed with polyphenols which have direct anti-viral properties and help gut health and in doing so reduce your risk of several different cancers.

A supplement containing pomegranate, turmeric, tea and broccoli was found to slow the growth of prostate cancer in one of our most widely-reported studies, the Pomi-T trial (which we will return to in Tuesday’s paper when we look at vitamins and supplements). 

4) Pulses, seeds and whole grains

These are key sources of numerous phytochemicals — in particular lignans and isoflavones. These help suppress excessive levels of the hormone oestrogen which is why a high intake of lignans and isoflavones is linked to lower levels of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer.

You can find them in flaxseeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds, pulses such as beans,

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