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Kale and Beets Worth the Cancer-Fighting Hype?

By PearlPoint Nutrition Services September 4, 2013Pearls of Wisdom Blog

When it comes to “hot cancer-fighting foods,” kale and beets are at the top of everyone’s list these days. From magazines to restaurants to grocery stores, these trendy veggies are popping up everywhere. But is all the buzz warranted, or are beets and kale just a flash in the pan?

Well, there are actually many health benefits that make kale and beets great additions to your diet. Read more to learn why they are worth the hype.

What Are the Health Benefits of Kale and Beets?

Antioxidants remove free radicals from the human body and have been linked to preventing diseases such as cancer.

Kale, a flavorful green that is part of the cruciferous vegetable family along with broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, contains many antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins C, E, and K. These help the body absorb iron and promote heart health by binding to the “bad cholesterol” in our body to get rid of it. It is important to note that foods heavy in vitamin K, such as kale, are not good for cancer patients who are on blood-thinning medications. Always consult with your medical team for treatment-specific recommendations.

Beets are a great way to add color to your plate. The red pigment in beets is called betacyanin. Researchers believe it could protect against the development of cancerous cells and might even play a role in reducing inflammation which spurs malignancy.

Glucosinolates, found in kale, also have possible cancer-fighting effects. When glucosinolates are broken down, they stimulate cell death in tumors.

Folate has been shown to be essential for cell growth and metabolism, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Folic acid supplementation also may reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood, decreasing cardiovascular risks. Both kale and beets are good sources of folate. Although folate doesn’t have a direct impact on cancer treatment, it does help the body reduce the risk of complications from cancer and treatment by decreasing cardiovascular risk factors.

Fiber is needed in our daily diets. It helps clear out the intestinal tract, keeping bowels moving regularly. Fiber also may help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels. An added bonus, fiber also keeps you full longer which could benefit your waist line. The recommended amount of fiber is 20-35 grams daily. Kale is a great source of fiber, providing 2.6 grams per 1 cup boiled serving. Beets provide 4 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving. This may be especially helpful for an individual going through cancer treatment who is having difficulty eating nutrient-dense foods. Fiber may also help if someone is having trouble with constipation or diarrhea due to cancer-related medications or treatment.

Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid in your body. It moves nutrients into the cells while removing waste from the cells. Potassium also helps the muscles and nerves communicate with each other. Both kale and beets are excellent sources of potassium. Research has not been shown to support that potassium can help prevent or treat cancer. However, potassium may be beneficial depending upon medications that are prescribed during treatment and side effects that may arise during treatment. This should be discussed with your physician.

Simple Ways to Add Kale and Beets to Your Diet

Some simple ways to incorporate kale into your diet include adding some to a salad, mixing with other greens when cooking, blending kale leaves in a smoothie, or tossing cooked kale in a pasta dish. Try this recipe for Kale with Peaches & Walnuts.

Beets can be cooked many ways making them a versatile and tasty addition to your arsenal of ingredients. They can be steamed, boiled, pickled, roasted, eaten raw, or oven-roasted. They contain more natural sugar making their carbohydrate content a bit higher than other vegetables, but they are still low calorie at 58 calories per 1 cup. Check out this recipe for Beet and Orange Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.

Eating more veggies is what’s important for your health. If you are crazy for kale and beets, then by all means enjoy. If they are not your favorite, simply eat other veggies from a wide variety of colors to get the most health benefits.

Each person facing cancer can have unique nutrition needs, and these foods may not be appropriate for everyone. If you have specific questions regarding the best foods to eat during cancer treatment or would like tips for a healthy survivorship, please contact PearlPoint Cancer Support to speak to a registered dietitian.


PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

Author PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

PearlPoint Nutrition Services is a program of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

More posts by PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

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