Foods That Fight Cancer



Cranberries grow in northern bogs on low-lying vines, just above water. These bright red gems are native to North America and at one time whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their ships to prevent scurvy. With their healthful nutrients and phytochemicals, along with the rich color and flavor, cranberries make a great addition to any meal, not just at Thanksgiving.

What's in Cranberries?

cranberry nutrition factsCranberries are good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber.

  • Flavonoids, including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols
  • Ursolic acid
  • Benzoic acid and hydroxycinnamic acid

Related Links:


The Cancer Research

One serving of cranberries provides at least 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber. Dietary fiber can act in several ways to lower cancer risk, including helping with weight control. (Excess body fat increases the risk of 12 cancer types, and dietary fiber can increase the feeling of fullness.)

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

Cranberries are fruits high in dietary 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.

Open Areas of Investigation: Laboratory Research

Laboratory research is abundant on vitamin C and many compounds in cranberries, such as flavonoids.

  • Vitamin C protects cells' DNA by trapping free radicals and inhibiting the formation of carcinogens.
  • In cell studies, cranberry extract and anthocyanins decrease free radical damage to DNA that can lead to cancer. They decrease growth and stimulate mouth, breast, colon, prostate, lung and other cancer cells to self-destruct. Cranberries' proanthocyanidins and ursolic acid also decrease growth and increase self-destruction of several types of cancer in cell studies. Research suggests that these compounds seem to work synergistically, providing more protection together rather than individually.
  • In limited animal studies, those fed cranberries developed fewer and smaller cancers of several types when compared to animals not consuming cranberries. Cranberries also reduced inflammation and cancers' ability to invade other tissues. (Chronic inflammation increases the risk of several types of cancer.)

Open Areas of Investigation: Human Studies

Human studies have generally focused on the general category of fruits, with a handful of studies investigating cranberry juice.

  • When comparing people with and without cancer, studies show that people who eat more fruit have a lower risk of several cancers, though often with significant individual variation. In a large population survey, people with diets higher in total flavonoids and anthocyanidins had lower levels of an indicator of inflammation.
  • A few small, short-term studies show that drinking cranberry juice every day increases people's blood levels of vitamin C. But whether that increases people's overall antioxidant activity or helps protect against DNA damage is not clear. Research is ongoing.
AICR-Supported Studies
Grant Number Title
09A020: Dietary Induced Sporadic Colon Cancer
97B048: Evaluation of the In Vivo Antitumor and Chemosensitizing Activities of Vitamin C and K3 Combinations
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
99A005: Dietary Inhibition of Cyclooxygenase-2 Gene Expression: A Novel Approach to Cancer Prevention
93B43: Dietary Antioxidants and Protein Kinase C Oxidative Activation in Tumor Promotion
89B36: Factors Affecting Nitrosoproline Formation in Vivo
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
00B091: A Potential Role for Ascorbic Acid as a Chemosensitizing Agent in Multiple Myeloma
94A72: Ascorbyl Esters as Antiglioma Agents: Mechanistic Study
91B36: Studies on In Vivo Nitrosation
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
85B47: Prevention of Estradiol-Induced Tumors by Vitamin C
05B047: A Prospective Study of Diet and Breast Cancer in Mexico: A Feasibility Study
03A083: Determination of Cranberry Constituents with Antiproliferative Activity Against Human Tumor Cell Lines
01A067: Determination of Cranberry Constituents with Antiproliferative Activity Against Human Tumor Cell Lines
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
97B128: Development of Nutritional Antioxidant-based Strategies to Prevent Etoposide-induced Acute Myeloid Leukemia

In the Kitchen


  • Choose fresh cranberries that are firm and unshriveled.
  • Dried cranberries offer almost no vitamin C, but they are concentrated in antioxidant phytochemicals, including ursolic acid and proanthocyanidins. Choose those with no signs of mold or off-odors.


  • Unlike most other berries, cranberries may be refrigerated for up to two months.
  • For longer storage, freeze cranberries in the bag purchased or freezer storage bag.
  • Store dried cranberries in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three months; check expiration date on packaged berries.


  • Add dried cranberries to cereal, oatmeal or plain yogurt.
  • Balance fresh cranberries’ tartness by mixing with other fruits, such as oranges, apples and pears for a relish or salsa.
  • Experiment with cranberries added to whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur, barley, and quinoa or whole-wheat stuffing.
  • Try fresh or dried cranberries as a colorful addition to a green or carrot salad.
  • Enjoy the flavor contrasts by combining dried cranberries with vegetables like Brussels sprouts or with apples and red cabbage over pork.
  • Add fresh, unthawed frozen or dried cranberries to waffles, pancakes, muffins and quick breads.
  • Mix dried cranberries with nuts and other dried fruit to make trail mix.
  • Add cranberries to baked apples or apple crisp.
Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread
Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread
  • Canola oil spray
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes, fresh baked or canned without syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. orange extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice or mace (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped dried unsweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a standard loaf pan (8x4 or 9x5-inch) with canola spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, oil, sweet potatoes and extracts until well combined.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the wet sweet potato mixture. Mix until just moistened; do not over-mix or beat batter until smooth. Gently stir in cranberries.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Remove bread from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes on rack. Remove from pan and set back on rack to completely cool. Seal bread tightly in plastic wrap, then foil. Tightly wrapped in both, it can be refrigerated up to one week or frozen up to one month.

Makes 16 servings.

Per serving: 160 calories, 5 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 26 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 1 g dietary fiber, 130 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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