Spring is a great time to think about growing foods that reduce cancer risk

By Taryn Celeste Prado, MDS, RD, LD, Clinical Nutritionist, Oncology Nutrition

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a mostly plant-based diet is linked to a reduction in the risk of various types of cancer. By including more vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based foods in your diet and making sure that at least two-thirds of your plate consists of these foods at every meal, you can help reduce the risk of cancer.

Store-bought vegetables, fruits, and herbs are beneficial and rich in nutrients, however, prolonged shelf life can lead to nutrient depletion over time. Consider growing a variety of these foods in your garden to maximize your intake of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals — the natural chemicals produced by plants.

The good news is that South Texas offers a climate conducive to growing a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. To reduce your risk of cancer, consider growing these foods:

Cruciferous Vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower have been shown to have beneficial properties in reducing the risk of cancer. Broccoli, for example, contains folic acid, vitamin C, selenium, zinc and has antioxidant properties. A diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent cell damage from free radicals — unstable molecules that can damage cells — and reduce the risk of cancer.

High-fiber whole foods.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming at least 30 grams of fiber daily. Consider increasing your fiber intake with homegrown, high-fiber vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Fiber from broccoli, for example, helps boost good gut bacteria, which can help fight inflammation and aid in the absorption of nutrients. High-fiber foods can also help keep you feeling full.


Research has shown that we absorb the beneficial compounds found in herbs much better when we digest them from whole food sources. That means fresh herbs from your garden may offer more of the properties that help reduce cancer risk. Herbs like basil and rosemary can be particularly beneficial.

The essential oils in basil have antimicrobial properties that can be good for fighting infection, and basil has been shown in animal studies to reduce oxidative damage.[1]

Oxidative damage occurs when there are more free radicals than antioxidants to neutralize them.

Rosemary contains some biologically active compounds like camphor, caffeic acid, and ursolic acid that have been shown to protect against oxidative stress.

Fruits rich in vitamins and antioxidants.

Fruit is a welcome addition to your diet, especially those high in vitamin C and antioxidant properties like kiwis and oranges. Other fruits that offer an abundance of antioxidants include blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. If you live in South Texas, consider growing peaches and plums, which are high in vitamins A and C, antioxidants, and fiber.

If you are a cancer patient, you should meet with a nutritionist.

If you are a cancer patient undergoing treatment at UT Health San Antonio Mays Cancer Center, home of MD Anderson Cancer Center, it may be beneficial to meet with a dietitian for personalized nutritional recommendations specific to your meet needs. For example, there are certain clinical cases where patients undergoing various surgeries or treatments may benefit from a low-fiber diet.

Mays Cancer Center is currently offering free nutritional counseling to cancer patients who are actively being cared for by a Mays Cancer Center oncologist. Patients may be referred from their provider’s office or ask their doctor if it would be appropriate to meet with a dietician, even if they are only seeking general information.

Our nutritionists closely follow cancer patients throughout their treatment, especially when they are struggling with nausea or loss of appetite. We develop strategies to address the individual needs of each patient.

We also offer services to cancer patients who have completed their treatment if they are still actively consulting their oncologist at Mays Cancer Center.

To learn more about Mays Cancer Center’s nutritional counseling services, click here.

[1] Kaefer, CM, Milner, JA. Herbs and spices in cancer prevention and treatment. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor, S, ed. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 17. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92774/.

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