How Vegetables Can Help Fight Disease

Vegetables are powerful allies in the fight against disease. Studies show that the nutrients and antioxidants in vegetables can help prevent and treat cancer, asthma, heart disease and many other chronic illnesses.

How Vegetables Can Help Fight Cancer

Experts believe that one third of all cancers could be prevented by a proper diet. The most common types of cancers are carcinomas, found in breast, prostate, lung, colon, and skin cancer.

Many types of vegetables help prevent cancer, among other diseases. According to Stephen Pratt and Kathy Matthews in their book Super Foods, numerous studies show that spinach can lower the incidence of colon, lung, skin, oral, stomach, ovarian, prostate, and breast cancers. While spinach is used in most studies, other leafy greens with similar nutrient profiles, such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, and orange bell peppers have similar cancer‐fighting properties. Other vegetables shown to be excellent cancer‐fighters include soybeans, cabbage, carrots, and parsnips.

Vitamin A, found in orange and leafy green vegetables, inhibits the growth of carcinomas. Carotenoids in red and yellow vegetables, as well as vitamin C in brassicas, tomatoes and peppers, play a role as well.

Phytoestrogens, found in soy foods, can help prevent prostate and breast cancers. Evidence is also mounting that eating phytoestrogen‐rich beans and legumes of all types may help prevent pancreatic, colon, breast, and prostate cancers.

The most‐touted cancer‐fighting vegetable is broccoli, which is rich in sulfur compounds including sulphuraphane ‐ which actually kills cancer cells ‐ and indoles, which inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumours. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that sulforaphane also kills the Heliobacter pylori bacteria, which causes gastric ulcers and cancers. Strong‐flavoured vegetables with sulfurous cooking odours ‐ including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and horseradish ‐ are rich in these sulfur‐containing compounds, which are called glucosinolates.

Broccoli is also a great source of vitamin C, beta‐carotenes, and fibre: all cancer‐fighters. While broccoli is the most studied, other members of the brassica vegetable family are also beneficial.

One study has found that onions and other alliums ‐ especially shallots ‐ which are rich in antioxidants called phenolics and flavenoids were extremely effective against liver and colon cancer cells. Pungent allium varieties such as yellow onions contain more of the cancer‐fighting phytochemicals than milder varieties such as Vidalia.

What Vegetables Can Heart Disease, Cardiovascular Health, and Diabetes

Flavenoids in onions and alliums have also been shown to have anti‐bacterial, anti‐viral, and anti‐inflammatory properties which reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

All forms of beans and legumes are great for a healthy heart ‐ just a half a cup of legumes per day will keep your heart healthy and contribute to it being disease‐free. Several studies show that people who eat more beans have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a significantly lower risk of heart disease. One study also showed that people who ate beans had a much lower incidence of diabetes. Other vegetables that help fight heart disease include broccoli, garlic, kale, and soy foods.

How Vegetables Help Fight Asthma and Create Respiratory Health

Studies show that vitamins A, C, E, and B6, as well as the phytochemicals in vegetables, help alleviate the airway inflammation and damaged lung tissue found in asthma and respiratory disease. Calcium is also beneficial. Magnesium has even been shown to be effective in treating severe, acute asthma attacks, contributing to respiratory health.

Research also shows that children who eat foods rich in omega‐3 fatty acids are less likely to have asthma than those with diets high in omega‐6 fatty acids. Omega‐3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, while omega‐6 fatty acids increase inflammation. Use vegetable oils that contain omega‐3 fatty acids, such as canola or olive oil, rather than vegetable oils or margarine containing omega‐6 fatty acids.


Vegetables rich in antioxidants can help fight arthritis. Researchers have found that people with diets high in the carotenoids beta‐cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin were less likely to develop inflammatory arthritis. Study participants who developed arthritis had a 40 percent lower intake of the antioxidant beta‐cryptoxanthin than those who didn’t develop the disease. Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, including bell peppers and corn, are good sources of these antioxidants.


Studies show a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, increases bone density. Phytoestrogens in soy products have also been shown to strengthen bones in post‐menopausal women. Soy products, such as tofu or soy milk, are also good for menopausal symptoms.

Macular Degeneration and Cataracts

Eating foods rich in the cartenoids lutein and zeaxanthin ‐ including spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, orange bell peppers, and corn ‐ decreases the incidence of macular degeneration and cataracts. A Harvard University study showed people eating a diet high in lutein had a 43 percent lower risk of developing macular degeneration. Omega‐3 fatty acids ‐ including canola and olive oil ‐ are also beneficial in preventing eye disease.

Colds and Environmental Toxins

Zinc is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to be effective in fighting infections such as colds, and environmental toxins, such as air pollution. See Know Your Vitamins for vegetables rich in zinc.

Emotional and Mental Health

Eating dark leafy greens and legumes could actually make you happier. People who suffer from depression have been shown to be deficient in B‐complex vitamins. Folic acid (B9) is used to treat depression, and niacin (B3) can help anxiety. Behavioural problems such as poor self control, anger, rage, dementia, and Alzheimer’s have been linked to vitamin B12 deficiency. The B‐complex vitamins, iron, and trace minerals ‐ especially zinc ‐ are important for good mental health. In an extreme example, one study of 27 murderers ‐ including Charles Manson ‐ found that they shared one thing in common: a severe zinc deficiency.

The best way to fight disease is with proper nutrition. Eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods ‐ including lots of vegetables ‐ for a healthy mind and body!

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