Today I start off with a question: What do turmeric, mushrooms, raspberries, seaweed and sweet potatoes all have in common?

In case you’re wondering why we should even care, let me drop a hint: The National Cancer Institute tells us that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be related to our diet, and that what we eat before and after a cancer diagnosis could make the difference between living or dying.

So to help take the guesswork out of it, the above-mentioned foods all have anticancer properties — meaning they are disease-fighting foods and have the ability to ward off cancer.

To answer my next question, I turned to Andy Woodward, registered oncology dietitian at Loma Linda University Hospital and popular program presenter on cancer-fighting foods to packed audiences. Simply put, my question was what if we’ve already been told that we have cancer? Could eating the right foods still be of any benefit to us and help us with healing?

“Absolutely,” Andy emphasized. “Diet is very important because some foods can help inhibit cancer cell growth and thereby reduce tumor size. So the right foods could actually be part of the treatment by giving the body a boost in healing itself.”

While turmeric, mushrooms, raspberries, seaweed and sweet potatoes can never take the place of conventional treatment, they can, in fact, be useful in giving the body a boost in healing itself. Here’s how:

Turmeric can reduce blood vessel formation in malignant cells and provide other mechanisms that fight cancer. Mushrooms can build the immune system and help fight cancer. Raspberries, blueberries and other berries contain the purple pigment, anthocyanins, which can reduce inflammation and are filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which protect against cancer. Seaweed may help fight against breast cancer. Sweet potatoes contain many anticancer properties, including beta-carotene. There probably isn’t any one single element in any one particular food that does all the work, Andy said. Eating a variety of plant-based foods that represent “a rainbow of color” provides a healthy assortment. He also suggests we increase our fiber intake — fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Nuts may help suppress the growth of cancers. He suggests we try sprinkling fruit and nuts on our cereal in the morning. And did you know that garlic also helps boost the immune system?

According to Andy, what we eat can definitely help us ward off cancer and other diseases, and if we’re already diagnosed with cancer, eating the right foods can help attack those wicked cancer cells and enhance the immune system.

Having attended Andy’s presentations, lectures and cooking demonstrations at Loma Linda University Hospital, I know he likes to color-group foods.

“Choose four or five different colors because a rainbow of color gives good balance,” he said. “I like to recommend that we include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and cruciferous vegetables, which contain indol-3-carbinol and are known to combat breast and prostate cancer.”

When I inquired about fats and red meat, Andy insisted we should eat no more than 3 ounces red meat daily and limit such saturated fats such as lard and butter. He also recommends avoiding tobacco, getting moderate exercise every day and increasing our fiber intake.

So how does information like this influence the big picture?

The sooner we change our habits and create a body environment that is inhospitable to cancer growth, the sooner we receive protective benefits. So good luck to all of us in preserving our health!

Jan Fowler is an award-winning columnist and author, and is the local president of the National League of American Pen Women. She may be reached at