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Fight Cancer With Your Fork by Jocelyn Dubin, MS, RD

Updated: Nov 19, 2022

Day in and day out, I work with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. One of my greatest joys as a registered dietitian is when I hear them say “I came in here feeling like there was nothing I could personally do to treat this disease but meeting with you has given me hope.” It is abundantly clear to me that you can indeed fight cancer with your fork, and that is how I give my patients hope. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that nutrition alone serves as a comprehensive approach to cancer treatment. Rather, I am suggesting that what we eat has a profound effect on cancer cell growth. And it's backed up by the science. It makes sense. Eating is the thing we all do every day, multiple times per day, regardless of how busy our lives are. In tandem with a wide variety of treatment modalities (which should be determined with one’s healthcare team), nutrient-dense foods alter the oncological landscape inside our bodies and our quality of life throughout cancer treatment.

The cancer-fighting powerhouses Curcumin is a nutrient found in turmeric. Its nutritional classification is a polyphenol. It makes up 2-3% of the turmeric root itself. Curcumin has been shown in multiple clinical studies to limit angiogenesis (the creation of blood vessels leading from a healthy cell to a cancer cell) and induce apoptosis (cancer cell death). This polyphenol activates enzymes needed to eliminate toxic compounds from the body and protects the body’s healthy cells against toxic, more invasive, cancer cells. By including turmeric in the diet, some curcumin will naturally be absorbed. However, since curcumin comprises such a small part of the turmeric root, adding small amounts of turmeric to food will not impart much benefit. To increase the efficacy of turmeric and the absorption of curcumin, pair it with black pepper. It increases the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. For many of my patients with cancer, I also recommend curcumin in supplemental form. But my approach is to get as much nutrition as we can from the foods and beverages we consume and use supplements only to fill in the gaps. This is critical given that many patients look to pills to play the role that medicinal foods should play and are confused when poor diet and a large quantity of supplements do not produce favorable outcomes. 

Cruciferous vegetables are also heavy hitters when it comes to fighting cancer with your fork. A key compound in this family of vegetables is indole-3-carbinol, which acts much like curcumin in that it is a potent detoxifying agent that aids the liver in removing chemical carcinogens from the body. It does this by inhibiting the Phase I detoxification enzymes and inducing the Phase II detoxification enzymes. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, watercress, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, arugula, horseradish and radishes are all cruciferous vegetables that contribute to making the body an unfavorable environment for cancer to exist and thrive.

Mushrooms play a powerful role in the fight to eradicate cancer. In specific, Trametes versicolor, commonly known as turkey tail mushroom, plays a central role in my nutrition practice. This mushroom contains a starchy compound known as a beta glucan. The beta glucan studied most widely in human clinical trials is Polysaccharopeptide. This cancer-fighting compound changes the gene expression and transcription for those with specific types of cancer. This results in more immune support for cancer patients. In my practice, I see its effects most starkly in the increase in white blood cell counts among those who have had blood drawn before using turkey tail mushroom and, again, after we have begun a turkey tail mushroom regimen. Turkey tail mushrooms are available at some gourmet grocers and online, in dried form. If you buy them fresh, add them to a soup or sauté them. If you purchase dried turkey tail mushrooms, rehydrate them in hot broth or water for 30 minutes before eating them. Turkey tail mushroom supplementation may also be indicated for some patients. 

By Peter Sevens from Seattle (Turkey tail mushroom)

While there are many other foods that aid us in the fight against cancer, the aforementioned ones are an excellent place to begin. By including curcumin, cruciferous vegetables and turkey tail mushrooms in your eating regimen, you can use the power of plants to become a proactive patient in the fight against cancer.

How much of each nutrient a person should include in their diet varies. In my practice, I customize every one of my nutrition recommendations to the individual. So rather than recommend 500 mg of curcumin or four cups of broccoli for every person—regardless of cancer type, stage, treatment modality, pre-existing condition or digestive issues—I recommend that you honor your unique self by working with a registered dietitian to determine the exact nutrients you should include. With personalized recommendations from your healthcare team and proper wielding of your fork, you can effectively fight cancer.


Jocelyn Dubin, MS, RD

Jocelyn Dubin, MS, RD has a Master’s in Nutritional Science from San Jose State University and is a registered dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Before Jocelyn opened NOURISH with her husband, Victor, she developed a private practice and worked to improve the nutritional health of individuals in hospitals, clinics, nonprofit organizations, schools and private homes. At NOURISH, Jocelyn provides telephone, Skype and in-office consultations, visits clients’ homes to perform kitchen makeovers, takes clients grocery shopping and teaches them how to order the healthiest items from restaurant menus. She also develops and delivers customized nutrition presentations for the public, corporations and nonprofit organizations. Jocelyn encourages her clients to use the power of their plates to be proactive about their health.

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