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Plants That Protect Your Prostate


August 30, 2000
Plants That Protect Your Prostate
By Elizabeth Smoots, M.D.

illustration: Barbara Shone

Real men don't eat eggplant? How about broccoli, carrots, or radishes? Some men partake of plant foods more than others, leaving the matter open for debate. Meanwhile, scientists have discovered a new reason why vegetable eating could become more macho: In research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute , men who ate the most vegetables had the lowest rate of prostate cancer.

The study of the dietary habits of 1,200 Seattle men was conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. It found that men who ate vegetables regularly were less prone to prostate cancer than those who ate them only sporadically. Specifically, men who consumed four or more servings of vegetables a day had a 35 percent reduced risk. Consuming cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, conferred the greatest protection -- a 41 percent decreased incidence of prostate cancer for men who ate at least three servings a week. In the study, beans were also shown to provide cancer protection, but fruit was not.

How many veggies?

Four or more servings of vegetables a day may sound like a lot, even if it will help your prostate. Maybe this will make it easier: A cup of raw leafy greens or a half-cup of any other vegetable -- cooked, frozen, canned, or chopped raw -- counts as a serving. So if you add between a half-cup and a cup to your lunch and to your supper, and snack on celery and carrot sticks, you'll soon reach the minimum requirement. More examples of a one-serving size of vegetables from the American Dietetic Association include the following:

  • 3 to 5 spears of broccoli
  • 7 or 8 carrots or carrot sticks
  • 1 ear of corn on the cob
  • 6 spears of asparagus
  • 1 medium tomato, fresh or stewed
  • 1 medium baked potato
  • 4 dark-green lettuce leaves
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans, peas, lentils, or other legumes

Cruciferous vegetables special

The study showed that cruciferous vegetables, plants in the cabbage family named for their cross-shaped flowers, confer extra-special protection. Researchers found that crucifers pack more bang for the buck, perhaps because these plants contain several substances known to help prevent cancer. These compounds, called indoles and isothiocyanates, help activate enzymes in your body that detoxify cancer-causing agents. Cruciferous vegetables come complete with even more nutrients, in the form of fiber and the antioxidants vitamin C and beta carotene, which may aid in cancer prevention.

To get the benefits, choose from a wide variety of cruciferous vegetables:

  • Arugula
  • Beets and beet greens
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (green or red, including coleslaw and sauerkraut)
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard greens
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips and turnip greens
  • Watercress

It's never too late to broaden your cuisine; you can protect your prostate by eating plenty of plant foods, including cruciferous vegetables, beans, and veggies of all kinds. You may even want to consider trying eggplant.

Related links:

Rx.magazine article: Prevention & Primary Care: Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Prostate

Rx.magazine article: Curable if Caught:Colon cancer screening can save your life

Outside link: Information on Prostate Cancer from the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center

Outside link: Information on Prostate Cancer from the National Cancer Institute