Foods That Fight Cancer




The blueberry is one of the few fruits native to North America. Native Americans used the berries and parts of the plant for medicine. Today, blueberries have a rockstar reputation among fruits; They contain powerful phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which give these berries their blue color.

What's in Blueberries?

blueberry nutrition facts

Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, manganese and a good source of dietary fiber. Blueberries are among the fruits highest in antioxidant power, largely due to their many phytochemicals:

  • Anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, kaempferol and other flavonoids
  • Ellagitannins and ellagic acid
  • Pterostilbene and resveratrol

Related Links:


The Cancer Research

Blueberries contain numerous phytochemicals and nutrients, many of which are well studied in the laboratory. They also contain dietary fiber, which can act in several ways to lower cancer risk, including helping with weight control. Excess body fat increases the risk of 12 cancers, and dietary fiber increases the feeling of fullness.

Current Evidence: AICR/WCRF Expert Report and its Updates (CUP)

Blueberries are fruits that contain fiber. After a systematic review of the global scientific literature, AICR/WCRF analyzed how these factors affect the risk of developing cancer. This comprehensive review of decades of research concluded that there is strong – probable - evidence that:

- foods containing dietary fiber DECREASE the risk of colorectal cancer

- a diet high in fruits along with non-starchy vegetables DECREASE the risk of lips, mouth, tongue and other aerodigestive cancers

Evidence categorized as "probable" means there is strong research showing a causal relationship to cancer – either decreasing or increasing the risk. The research must include quality human studies that meet specific criteria and biological explanations for the findings. A probable judgement is strong enough to justify recommendations.

Source: AICR/WCRF. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective, 2018.

”…the more you look at these foods, the more you see what a complex mixture of protective compounds they have.”
- Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.

Open Areas of Investigation: Laboratory Research

Laboratory research is extensive on blueberry compounds such as flavonoids and ellagic acid.

  • Vitamin C protects cells’ DNA by trapping free radicals and inhibiting formation of carcinogens.
  • In cell studies, blueberry extract and anthocyanins, as well as ellagic acid and the urolithins that form from it, decrease free radical damage to DNA that can lead to cancer. They also decrease growth and stimulate self-destruction of mouth, breast, colon and prostate cancer cells.
  • In animal studies, blueberries decrease inflammatory cytokines, esophageal cancer and pre-cancerous changes in the colon, although impact on colon cancer is less clear. In other animal studies, blueberries decrease estrogen-induced mammary cancer and DNA damage.
  • Pterostilbene increases self-destruction of lung, stomach, pancreatic and breast cancer cells. In an animal study, it also decreased formation of pre-cancerous colon polyps and reduced markers of inflammation.
  • Dietary fiber reduces cells’ exposure to cancer-causing substances, and healthful gut bacteria use it to produce short-chain fatty acids that protect colon cells.

Open Areas of Investigation: Human Studies

Most human studies look at overall fruit consumption. Comparing people with and without cancer, the studies show lower risk of several cancers in those who eat more fruits compared to those who eat relatively few.

Studies are not clear about how well we absorb anthocyanins and ellagic acid from the digestive tract. Several studies show that eating blueberries increases antioxidant activity in the blood, although results vary and the studies do not show consistent signs of preventing DNA damage.

Bacteria in our colon convert the ellagitannins and ellagic acid to urolithins, which can be absorbed and seem to offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and direct anti-cancer effects. In addition, unabsorbed compounds may exert protective effects inside the digestive tract. This research is ongoing.

AICR-Supported Studies
Grant Number Title
09A020: Dietary Induced Sporadic Colon Cancer
87A31: Dietary Antioxidants and Transplacental Carcinogenesis
99A083: Effect of Antioxidant Vitamins on Radioimmunotherapy-Induced Normal Tissue Toxicity
91SG16: Modification of Mutagen Sensitivity by Dietary and Chemopreventive Factors in Head and Neck Cancer in Vitro
89SG19: Effect of Soluble Fibers on Colonic Physiology
95A27: Vitamin Intervention in Smokers
07A149: The Role of Mitochondria in Resveratrol-induced Cell Death of Human Neuroblastoma
00A007: Resveratrol for Ex Vivo Purging of Bone Marrow Transplants
99A092: In Vitro Effects of Resveratrol During Early Stages of Intestinal Tumorigenesis
01A015: Effect of Phenolic Antioxidants on Cell Cycle Regulatory Genes
99A062: Mechanisms of Resveratrol-induced Apoptosis and Its Role in Chemoprevention of Cancer
03B040: Strategies for Colon Cancer Prevention with Transgenic Alfalfa: Resveratrol Glucoside
05A079: Breast Cancer and eNOS Suppression by Quercetin
86A45: Anticarcinogenicity of Dietary Flavonol Quercetin
93B43: Dietary Antioxidants and Protein Kinase C Oxidative Activation in Tumor Promotion
03B113: Tumor Radiosensitization by Dietary Quercetin
98B067: The Efficacy of Diet and Chemopreventatives on Cancer Progression in a Novel Mouse Model Mimicking Human Tumorigenesis
10A070: Exercise and Quercetin in Colon Cancer: Role of Macrophages"
94SG02: Effect of Dietary Ellagic Acid on Transplacental Carcinogenicity: Pilot Study
90A52: Nutritional Determinants of Breast Cancer
93A76: Nutritional Determinants of Breast Cancer
09A056: The Role of Dietary Fiber and Gut Microflora in Prevention of Colorectal Cancer
03B041: Role of Soy and Red Wine Phytoestrogens in Breast Cancer Progression
06A031: Leukemia-associated Chromosomal Abnormalities: the Role of Prenatal Exposure to Dietary Topoisomerase II Inhibitors and Mutation in the ATM Gene
09A097: Adolescent Diet and Benign Breast Disease
95A24: Mechanism of Fatty Acid Effects
94A25: Fatty Acids, Mitochrondia and Molecular Genetics of Colon Cancer
95B025: Short Chain Fatty Acid Metabolism and APC Initiated Colon Cancer
91SG05: Azoxymethane-induced Colon Cancer in Rats Fed Varying Levels of Bean(Phaseolous vulgaris) Dietary Fiber
92A05: Fatty Acids, Mitochondria, and Molecular Genetics of Colon Cancer
95B029: Gene-Environment Interaction in Heterocyclic Amine Carcinogenesis
86A61: Prevention of Skin and Lung Cancer by Ellagic and Tannic Acids: Mechanistic Studies
94B96: Induction of Carcinogen Detoxifying Enzymes by the Dietary Anticarcinogen Elagic Acid
91SG21: Colon Carcinogenesis: Nutritional Modulation of Biomakers
96A078: Activation of a Tumor Suppressor Gene by Nutrient Derivatives
87B62: Dietary Treatment for the Prevention of Cervix Dysplasias
04B050: Effect of Dietary Antioxidants on Genetic Instability and Cancer Incidence in Ataxia Telangiectasia

In the Kitchen


  • Choose firm, plump, dry blueberries with dusty blue color. Avoid berries that are soft, shriveled or with any sign of mold.
  • Buy frozen blueberries too. These also are high in nutrients and antioxidant phytochemicals.
  • Treat yourself to wild blueberries with even more antioxidant power than the more common cultivated blueberries.


  • Refrigerate blueberries for up to 10 days.
  • Wait to wash until ready to eat.


  • Whirl blueberries alone or with other fruits into a smoothie or fruit freeze drink.
  • Top cereal or yogurt with fresh or dried blueberries.
  • Add blueberries to a green salad.
  • Blueberries play well with other fruits! Alone or in combinations, enjoy them in muffins, pancakes, and fruit crumble or crisp desserts.
  • Be creative with blueberries: try a blueberry quesadilla with wild blueberry sauce.
Blueberry Quesadilla with Wild Blueberry Sauce
  • One bag (10 oz.) frozen blueberries, preferably wild
  • 1/2 Fuji apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. blueberry fruit spread
  • 4 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 cup (2 oz.) shredded part-skim milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) part-skim milk ricotta cheese
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp. dried blueberries

In medium saucepan, combine frozen berries, apple, sugar and cinnamon. Cover, bring to boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer until fruit is soft, 10 minutes. Set Wild Blueberry Sauce aside. Makes 2 cups.

On work surface, spread 1 tablespoon of blueberry spread to cover each tortilla, leaving 1/2-inch border all around. In bowl, combine mozzarella and ricotta cheeses with zest. Spread 1/2 cup of cheese mixture over half of each tortilla. Sprinkle dried blueberries over mixture, then fold the tortilla over to enclose the filling.

Heat griddle or large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add quesadillas and cook until crisp and lightly browned on bottom, 3 minutes. Turn and crisp on second side, 2-3 minutes.

To serve, place a quesadilla on each of 4 plates and top with 1/4 cup of warm sauce. The remaining sauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for five days.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 400 calories, 9 g total fat (5 g saturated fat), 67 g carbohydrate, 15 g protein, 6 g dietary fiber, 420 mg sodium.

More Recipes
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked.


Which fruits and vegetables should I be eating?


Eat as many different vegetables and fruits as you can. Variety is the key to obtaining the many protective phytochemicals. Each vegetable and fruit has its own profile of health-promoting substances.

The phytochemicals found in cantaloupe are different from those in broccoli or leeks or cherries. Try to include a lot of colors on your plate. Aim to eat some bright red, green, orange, blue, purple and yellow vegetables and fruits each day.


Should I buy organic foods whenever possible?


There are many reasons to eat organic foods, but currently, there is no convincing evidence that shows a difference between organic and conventionally grown foods related to cancer risk. Studies show pesticide residues on conventionally grown foods are almost always within safety tolerance limits.

If you are concerned about pesticide residues and can afford to spend more, organic produce may be a choice for you. Eating generous servings of a large variety of veggies and fruits - whether organic or not will benefit your health. The advantages of including more vegetables and fruits in your diet outweigh the potential risks from pesticides.


Can grilled meats really cause cancer?


Lab studies show that exposing meats to direct flame, smoke and intense heat (like when you grill or broil) can cause the formation of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Cooking methods that involve less heat, such as microwaving, baking, steaming and poaching, do not promote the formation of these substances.

Several strategies you can use to cut carcinogen formation on meat include marinating, flipping frequently, removing excess fat from meat before cooking, and microwaving for part of the cooking time. So for delicious and healthful options, try grilling vegetables, veggie burgers and fruit slices and cut down on meat, fish and poultry.


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