Food as Medicine: Fighting Cancer and Disease

FRESNO, Calif.

We know what's bad, and we know what's good, but what's best when it comes to cancer and disease-fighting foods? Is it spinach? Black berries? Tomatoes? Mint?

The surprising answer is mint!

"It has a photochemical that is really good at turning the master cancer cell off," Rebecca Katz, MS, told Action News.

Katz is the executive chef in residence and nutritional educator at one of the country's leading cancer wellness centers.

"The real foods, the foods without fancy packaging and stickers, they provide us with everything we need to survive and thrive," Katz told Action News.

She uses food to maximize cancer treatments, minimize side effects and improve outcomes.

"You can create an environment in your body with the food that you eat to create what we call an inhospitable environment for cancer cells to grow just from the food you eat," Katz said.

What are her top three picks?

"Cabbage and broccoli and cauliflower are full of a gazillion phytochemicals," Katz said.

"Ever since I had breast cancer, I know, every food item I eat, I'm looking for maximum benefit," Mary McCue told Action News.

McCue was given a breast cancer diagnosis four years ago.

"It was detected very early. I didn't have a lump, just tiny nodules," McCue said.

After 23 biopsies, she had her left breast removed. The cancer changed her life, but McCue changed her lifestyle.

"I took out sugars. I learned very quickly that's an inflammatory," McCue said.

There are other top cancer-fighting foods. Carrots contain a substance called falcarinol that reduces the risk of cancer. Chili peppers and jalapenos are full of capsaicin that helps neutralize cancer-causing substances. Grapefruits contain monoterpenes that sweep carcinogens out of the body. Kale has nitrogen compounds that stop the conversion of some lesions into cancerous cells, and mushrooms have a protein called lectin that attacks cancerous cells and stops them from multiplying.

"The shiitake and maitake are the real immune-boosting," Katz told Action News.

But good foods just don't fight breast cancer. New research out of the Archives of Neurology proves that eating folate found in black-eyed peas, vitamin E found in almonds and Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon can lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease and can fight its memory-stealing effects once diagnosed.

Vitamin D may improve survival rates among lung cancer patients. According to Harvard scientists, the patients who drank the most milk and ate the most eggs and seafood had a 56-percent survival rate compared to 23-percent who didn't get enough.

Eating just one serving of watermelon or pink grapefruit a day can reduce a man's risk of developing prostate cancer by 82-percent.

Also, stay away from foods that contain monosodium glutamate, hydrogenated fats, nitrates and artificial dyes. All of these chemicals have been associated with emotional health problems. What are the depression-fighting foods? Healthy proteins like lean chicken, salmon, tuna, nuts, beans and soy, which all feed your brain.

"We make a really healthy connection to food. We make a really healthy connection to life," Katz said.

"It's true. You are what you eat," McCue said.

And eating the right foods could be the key to surviving whatever ails you.

"I was 56 when I was diagnosed, and I felt like I was going on 70. Now, I feel like I'm 40. I know I don't look it, but I have that energy," McCue said.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that people with the highest intake of soda were as much as six-times more likely to develop skin cancer than those who hardly touched the stuff.

Rebecca Katz, Author, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen

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