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Fight cancer with dark green vegetables


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Fight cancer with dark green vegetables

Average adult should eat three cups a week

By Karen Collins, R.D., Registered Dietitian / Special to MSNBC.com

Updated: 9:39 a.m. ET April 8, 2005

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2005, issue a major challenge regarding vegetables. The average adult needs to boost their consumption of dark green vegetables by 200 to 300 percent. We currently eat so little of these foods that our health is suffering.

The latest dietary recommendations suggest that most adults should eat three cups of dark green vegetables a week. To reach this amount, you could have a half-cup serving almost every day, or larger servings several times a week.

If that seems like a lot of vegetables, that’s because Americans seldom eat them. One consequence of this poor eating habit is that American diets tend to be low in potassium and magnesium. Dark green vegetables provide these minerals that are linked with healthy levels of blood pressure and blood sugar.

Not only do we seldom eat them, however, many of us walk into grocery stores and never notice, or even recognize, many of the dark green vegetables there. Next time you’re in a grocery store, go on a “green vegetable” hunt, looking for these nutritious, delicious treasures.

Romaine lettuce – and even darker green leafy vegetables like spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, mustard greens and turnip greens – contain beta-carotene as well as the carotenoid cousins called lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin are all powerful antioxidants that seem to play a role in blocking early stages in the development of cancer.

High in folate

Some studies even link them with a lower risk of breast, lung and skin cancers. In addition, lutein seems to help slow the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a cause of age-related blindness.

These same dark greens can also supply a significant amount of folate. Folate is a B vitamin that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also necessary for DNA duplication and repair. Without repair, damaged cells can develop into cancer.

The importance of folate should not be underestimated. Even after considering the presence of other cancer-fighting nutrients, several large studies show that the risk of colon polyps, which are the source of most colon cancers, is 30 to 40 percent lower in people with a high folate intake compared to those with diets low in folate.

Research also suggests that diets low in folate may increase the risk of cancers of the breast (particularly among women who drink alcohol), cervix and lung.

Research is showing that many of our favorite foods contain compounds that help our bodies fight infection, heart disease and even cancer.

Certain dark green vegetables offer another advantage. Watercress, arugula, bok choy, broccoli and kale are all members of the cruciferous family. These vegetables supply phytochemicals such as indoles that help stop cancer before it starts.

How to serve them

These phytochemicals block enzymes that activate carcinogens and boost enzymes that detoxify them. Other antioxidant phytochemicals in these green cruciferous veggies help prevent and repair DNA damage that can lead to cancer. They also seem to interrupt the growth of cancer cells.

If you haven’t eaten many of these dark green vegetables before, you may not know how to serve them. Perk up salads or sandwiches with small tender leaves. Add greens with larger, tougher leaves to soups. You can quickly stir-fry many of these greens in a dash of canola or olive oil with some garlic, onion, or ginger.

Check your grocery store for pamphlets with more ideas for preparing this kind of produce, or look at cookbooks. Or get fresh ideas at your desk: Go to the website of the American Institute for Cancer Research and click on Recipe Corner. Type in the name of a vegetable for some tasty recipes to try. The website www.5aday.com offers a similar service.

GUIDE Foods that fight disease

• Apples

• Broccoli

• Carrots

• Fish

• Garlic and onions

• Kale

• Legumes

• Multi-grain breads

• Raspberries

• Red wine

• Soy beans

• Tomatoes

Flavonoids that protect against cancer, heart disease, allergies, ulcers, viral infections and tumors.

Glucosinolates that help the liver rid the body of toxic substances.

Indol carbinols that protect against certain breast tumors.

Beta-carotene that protects against lung, colorectal, breast, uterine and prostate cancers.

Folic acid, a B vitamin that reduces the risk of some cancers, as well as birth defects such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

Sulforaphanes that boost the body’s ability to detoxify carcinogens.

Beta-carotene that protects against lung, colorectal, breast, uterine and prostate cancers.

Sulforaphanes that boost the body’s ability to detoxify carcinogens.

Omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease and have been shown to prevent cancer in animal studies. The fatty acids also help maintain normal elasticity of arteries and nourish heart and blood vessels.

Allylic sulfides, which protect against DNA damage and help the body to detoxify carcinogens. The compounds also appear to inhibit growth of tumors, and decrease blood clotting that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Folic acid, a B vitamin that reduces the risk of some cancers, as well as birth defects such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

Sulforaphanes that boost the body’s ability to detoxify carcinogens.

Isoflavones that block enzymes that promote tumor growth.

Selenium, a natural antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cancer and diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

Salicylates, compounds with anti-clotting properties; may reduce the risk of blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Polyphenols, which prevent blood clotting, thus warding off heart attacks.

Flavonoids that protect against cancer, heart disease, allergies, ulcers, viral infections and tumors.

Phytoestrogens that mimic the body’s own estrogens, protecting against ovarian and breast cancers.

Genistein, which can block the blood supply to tumors, thus choking cancerous cells to death.

Lycopene, one of the most potent of antioxidants — substances that sop up so-called free radicals, unstable particles that can lead to DNA damage, cancer and heart disease.

Salicylates, compounds with anti-clotting properties; may reduce the risk of blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.

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