Top 5 Foods for Oral Cancer Prevention and Why

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Upon looking at the following numbers, you can see why oral cancer should not be taken lightly.

·         Cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx cause more than 350,000 deaths each year worldwide.
·         35-45% of all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes.
·         20-25% of oral and throat cancers have been linked to a poor nutritional diet.

Human studies reveal that a higher fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a lower risk of oral cancer. So, let’s focus on how a healthy diet can help your oral health and prevent oral cancer.

1.      A diet rich in fruits and vegetables
Why?
Green vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, watercress, etc.), citrus fruits and red grapes are rich sources of polyphenols such as resveratrol and quercetin, you can benefit from their cancer protective effects based on their anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antitumor properties. Antioxidants found in these foods can also fight cancer by neutralizing free radicals, preventing DNA damage of cells, and improving your immune system’s response.

2.      A diet high in plant-based foods (those beyond fruits/veggies)
Why?
Foods like whole wheat, whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, legumes (beans, lentils), nuts and seeds are high in protein, high in fiber, but low in animal fats, which can lower the risk of oral cancer. Animal proteins from red meats and some dairy products can mess up hormonal functions, modify enzyme activities, and induce inflammation, consequently creating an acidic environment for cancer to grow.

In addition, plant-based foods are also low in calories, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Research has shown that a plant-based diet not only reduces the risk of developing cancer, but also improves survival after the diagnosis.

3.      Olive oil
Why?
Intake of olive oil (rich in monounsaturated fatty acid and antioxidants) can facilitate the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E, which is why your veggie salad provides more nutrients and benefits for your body when topped / mixed with or sautéed in olive oil. Studies reveal that olive oil intake has been associated with lowered risk of oral cancer.

4.      Water and/or tea (unsweetened) as the best beverage to drink.
Why?
Water, especially filtered water, is critical to your health, diluting any toxins and sugar intaken with your food. Avoid alcohol intake and limit sugar-rich soft drinks. Sugar is fuel for cancer, a supplier for bacteria, and a decay-causing provider for your teeth, leading to poor oral health.

5.      Nutritious but low-sugar snacks
Why?
Snacks such as raw vegetables, dried fruits, plain yogurt, low-fat cheese, nuts, or a firm fruit – an apple, offer nutritional, anti-cancer values by adding more antioxidants and fibers with less fats and calories.

Overall, a diet high in fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods has profound benefits for reducing the risk of oral cancer and for oral health. These foods can help prevent cancer, as well as help fight cancer after you have been diagnosed.  

Remember: Of equal importance are good oral hygiene (daily brushing and flossing your teeth) and early detection by routine dental exams.

Image Credits:  nkzsAlexandru MitreaDaniel Gilbey, and lockstockb