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Do foods like blueberries, broccoli and beetroot prevent cancer?

It is difficult to show that a specific food increases or reduces the risk of developing certain cancers. This is because our diets consist of many different foods, nutrients and chemicals.

There is evidence eating a healthy balanced diet with at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day can help reduce the risk of developing some types of cancer, including mouth, throat and stomach cancers.

Superfoods

Blueberries, broccoli and beetroot are sometimes referred to as "superfoods". Other so-called superfoods include garlic, green tea and oily fish.

There's no scientifically agreed definition of a superfood. Many so-called superfoods are fruits and vegetables. These contain a range of nutrients and chemicals, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and flavonoids, as well as fibre. These nutrients may make it harder for cancer to develop. 

It's thought the combination of these chemicals, rather than any one in particular, may give fruit and vegetables a protective effect against some diseases. 

Studies have shown fibre-rich foods can decrease the chances of getting bowel cancer. Along with fruit and vegetables, other fibre-rich foods include oats, wholegrain bread and pasta, bran and cereals.  

Antioxidants

Foods such as blueberries and broccoli contain high levels of antioxidants, which are chemicals that can reduce the cell damage caused by molecules called free radicals. Antioxidants have been found to reduce the growth of cancer cells in test tubes under laboratory conditions.

However, the effects of a chemical in a laboratory study are not necessarily the same as those in the human body. Also, the doses of antioxidants used in studies are often much higher than those found in foods. This means it's not possible to conclude from such studies that eating foods that contain these chemicals can stop you getting cancer.

Diet and cancer

Eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly will help you maintain a healthy weight, which itself can reduce your risk of getting some types of cancer.

Read more about how you can reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Read the answers to more questions about cancer.

Further information:

Eating well on a budget

In this video, dietitian Azmina Govindji gives advice on how to eat healthily on a budget.

Media last reviewed: 27/04/2015

Next review due: 27/04/2017

Page last reviewed: 03/06/2015

Next review due: 03/06/2017