Plant Power

January 2017

By Naini Setalvad

Indian food has several fruits, vegetables and substances that can prevent, retard and reverse cancer, says Naini Setalvad


Hope, faith, a positive attitude and good nutrition is the way to prevent, retard and reverse cancer. Over the years of working with cancer patients I have realised all bodies have cancer cells. A malnourished body generates cancer cells; if they multiply cancer begins. We need to starve the body of the fuel that increases their reproduction. A well-nourished body can nip cancer cells in the bud. It is important to comprehend that no solitary magic pill can boost immunity. It is a synergy of the mind and body. I was pleasantly astonished to find out that we did not need to look beyond our country to triumph against cancer and a simple Indian meal is the solution for optimum nourishment that boosts immunity.

The plant kingdom has been giving us natural chemicals since the beginning of time. Today known as phytochemicals (phyto: plant) and antioxidants, they play an important role by increasing resistance to cancer cell reproduction. Found in yellow, green, orange and red pigments they provide the colour naturally to our fruits, vegetables, grains and spices. These are the armies that fight free radicals which are produced as we breathe in oxygen molecules which at times become unstable, in the process damaging chromosomes that increase cancer cells. The more natural colours you eat from the plant kingdom, the larger protection is provided to you to prevent these rogue molecules from penetrating your system.

Unfortunately, free radicals multiply not only by breathing in oxygen but due to numerous reasons like waking up way beyond sunrise, sleeping, eating, working and messaging at unearthly hours, not following the natural rhythms of the sun and the moon thus disrupting the internal body clock. Poor nutrition, chemicals, pesticides, growth hormones, artificial colours, sugar, aerated drinks, alcohol, an excess of refined foods, in short the sum and substance of modern life, are some of the fuels that feed cancer. Top it with bad fat, fried red meat, char grilled foods, processed foods, cold cuts, foods refried or fried beyond smoking point, excessive caffeine, tobacco and sugar substitutes, and you have a toxic mix.  A toxic body causes a toxic mind adding to the reproduction of cancer cells.

The urgent need of the day is to starve these cancer cell reproducers by piling up your plate with phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibres and eating seasonal, local and organic foods. Let’s first understand how these changes can help.

First stage: stop free radicals from reproducing cancer cells.

Second stage: block the free radicals from reaching its target or reacting with the target.

Third stage: If cancer cells are produced, they help in doing a cleanup job acting as suppressing agents and immunity boosters.

Beta-carotene, Lycopene, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Selenium, Allium and the cruciferous group of vegetables are powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals which are a staple in every Indian kitchen.

Beta-carotene is found in carrot, pumpkin, yam, mango, spinach, leafy greens, apricots, sweet potato and saffron.

Lycopene is found in tomato; tomato juice has a higher percentage of this substance and cooked tomato has the highest percentage, followed by pomelo and watermelon.

Vitamin C is found in guava, awala (Indian gooseberries), bell peppers, lemon, orange, mango, pineapple, papaya, drumstick and its leaves (moringa)

Vitamin E and Selenium are found in amaranth, cooked brown rice, roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Cooked barley (jav) is rich in phytochemicals, tocotrienols and lignans which complement each other and add to the fight against cancer.

Allium group contain onion, garlic, which are particularly good for liver, breast, stomach, colon, skin, nasal and cervical cancers.

Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, mustard leaves (sarson), mustard seed and mustard oil. These help detoxify cancer-causing chemicals and antioxidants that protect cells from damaging oxidation.

Cloves, cardamom and black pepper contain a fair amount of phytochemicals.

Cumin fights liver cancer.

Lentils, chickpeas, moong beans and various other lentils are high in fibre and foliate which are needed to win against cancer.

Ginger fights cancer as well as its infections with its natural anti-inflammatory properties.

Pomegranate contains three times more antioxidants than green tea.

Mint leaves, coriander (leaf and seed) fenugreek (seed, powder and leaf) have the highest cancer fighting properties especially liver and breast cancer.

Turmeric, a staple in every Indian kitchen helps fight all cancers including colorectal, breast, pancreatic, bladder, oral, cervical and stomach.

Tulsi has the potential to block or suppress liver, stomach and lung cancer. Traditionally, and even today, it is a common practice in households that after serving as an offering to God, Indians eat tulsi leaves as prasad.

Sesame seeds popular during winter contain antioxidants, phytochemicals and several phenolic compounds resisting infections caused by cancer and help fight breast and prostate cancer.

Cow’s ghee, an integral part of the Indian diet is rich in conjugated linoleic acid. Scientists from the National Dairy Research Institute found that ghee from cow’s milk enhances the availability of enzymes responsible for detoxification of cancer-causing substances.

Coconut oil: DHEA and pregnenolone present in coconut oil prevent cancer.

Flaxseeds decrease a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by 82 per cent.

The main conclusion is that when we eat a diet that is abundant in commonly used vegetables, fruits, grains, lentils, fats and spices in India, cancer cells can be prevented from multiplying. Simply add to your meals a salad, vegetables, leafy greens, lentils cooked in cow’s ghee or mustard oil with any of the above spices plus mint chutney and rotis made from barley or amaranth. Squeeze lemon juice on everything. Garnish food with coriander and grated coconut. Toss sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds together. Dry roast, add rock salt, toss in your salads, snack on them, include fruits as snack options. Over a century ago cancer was not so common. A bad diet and shifting from nature’s rhythm has led to a rise in cancer. Go all out in making overall changes in your diet.

About the author : Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.

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