At a time of year when many American families gather to pile food on holiday plates, cancer researchers urge families to save more space for colorful fruits and vegetables that may help prevent cancer.
Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James) say brightly-colored natural foods including tomatoes, broccoli and berries are rich in compounds called phytochemicals, which have been shown in studies at Ohio State to have cancer-fighting properties. Cancer researchers and food scientists collaborate at Ohio State’s Food Innovation Center to create functional foods that promote health and prevent and treat disease.
“Plant geneticists have traditionally focused breeding strategies toward boosting the yield of crops or increasing the shelf life of a fruit or vegetable,” said Dr. Steven Clinton, program leader of molecular carcinogenesis and chemoprevention at OSUCCC-James. “Our team is thinking of food in a new way, utilizing traditional plant breeding to create new strains that boost a food’s natural anti-cancer compounds.”
The research has attracted the attention of Midwest farmers. Five farming cooperatives in Ohio and Indiana have formed Growing the Cure, a program to encourage and fund food and nutrition research for cancer prevention and care. Recently they donated more than $100,000 to OSUCCC-James to support food research. This research includes the use of soybeans, one of Ohio’s biggest crops, in newly created functional foods. Soybeans are a rich source of anti-cancer compounds, but are not part of the typical American diet.
“Many Americans don’t like the taste of soy itself, such as in a traditional Asian food like tofu, so we’re also using advanced food technology and processing to create new cancer-fighting combinations that can be used in clinical trials for specific cancers,” says Clinton, who is also associate director of Ohio State’s Food Innovation Center. “At the James Cancer Hospital, some prostate cancer patients in clinical trials are testing our soy-tomato juice and soy-almond bread to see if they have enhanced anti-cancer properties.”
Cancer patients, survivors and other community members, some armed with garden tools and bushel baskets, help tend and harvest the new Survivors Garden, a two-acre farm on Ohio State’s agriculture campus where vegetables and fruits are grown. The program started last spring to enhance education efforts for patients and the community. Gardeners also learn from hospital chefs and dieticians how to make the most of each food they harvest.
“An experience with cancer can be turned into a very teachable moment,” says Clinton. “It’s a time when folks really do re-evaluate their lifestyle, diet and nutrition.”
The Ohio State team is capitalizing on teachable moments like these to stress the benefits of fruits and vegetables that go beyond their nutrients. Clinton says the phytochemicals being studied work many ways to impact health – as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and immune system regulators, for example.
“Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, a rainbow of colors, will help these various phytochemicals work together and promote health,” says Clinton.
Source: OSU Wexner Medical Center