5 Cancer-Preventive Compounds You Probably Don’t Know
oranges chalkboard

Compounds on Your Plate

You already know that veggies, fruits and other plant foods rich in vitamins and minerals are a key part of a cancer-preventive diet. But there are lots of other less familiar substances that help ward off cancer.  See how many of these compounds you know.



Quercetin is a member of a large group of phytochemicals called flavonoids. It can help prevent or reduce chronic inflammation, a condition linked to increased cancer risk.

Quercetin can also act as an antioxidant, helping to keep a balance between antioxidants and free radicals in our body - important for good health and lower cancer risk.

Quercetin in Foods

You can get quercetin from apples, tea, onions, and other vegetables. Apple peels contain most of that fruit’s quercetin, so don’t throw away that peel.

ascorbic acid

Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is another name for vitamin C. It protects our DNA from damage by trapping free radicals and keeping cancer-causing substances from forming. It also helps other compounds maintain their antioxidant power.

Ascorbic Acid in Food

Beyond oranges and grapefruit, foods rich in vitamin C include red and green bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, cabbage and cauliflower.


Allicin is responsible for the pungent odor and flavor of garlic. Allicin and related compounds in garlic keep cell growth in check and help maintain healthy cell turnover. In laboratory studies, these components have shown the ability to slow or stop the growth of tumors in prostate, bladder, colon and stomach tissue.

Allicin in Food

Garlic contains allicin and related substances. Be sure to chop, slice or mince garlic 10 minutes before cooking to allow the enzymes in garlic to help create the active allicin compound.


Sulforaphane comes from the breakdown of glucosinolates which are sulfur containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli. Sulforaphane may help prevent cancer by helping the body get rid of carcinogens and turning on genes to suppress tumors, slowing cancer growth.

Sulforaphane in Food

While broccoli is probably the best known cruciferous vegetable, others like brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale also contain glucosinolates that are being studied for their role in cancer prevention.

Phylloquinone and Menaquinones

Phylloquinone and menaquinones are two forms of vitamin K. Research is underway looking at the potential for menaquinones to inhibit growth of certain cancers. Vitamin K is best known for its role in helping blood clotting. It is also involved in building bones and may help prevent the calcification (hardening) of blood vessels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Phylloquinone and Menaquinones in Food

Phylloquinone is found in leafy green vegetables such as kale and swiss chard as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Vitamin K is fat soluble so cooking these veggies in a little oil will help with absorption. Menaquinones are found in animal products like meat, eggs, and cheese. They are also found in fermented foods and made by our gut bacteria.

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    Published on March 3, 2016

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