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Veggies vs. Cancer

A landmark study pitted 34 common vegetables against 8 different lines of human cancer cells.

November 6, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



But anyway, back to beans. In terms of nutrient density, nutrients per calorie: are beans the most nutritious class of whole foods? Or is it fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables, or whole grains? What should go on the base of a healthy eating pyramid? Beans, fruits, nuts, veggies, or grains?
Definitely vegetables, but which are the healthiest ones? A major advance was made this year ranking vegetables. Graphs like this that I’ve shared over the years that compare the antioxidant power of foods were all based on very primitive methods—basically just measuring how much a food slows down an oxidation reaction between two chemicals in a machine. That was the best we had, but it required a leap of faith that what was happening in the test tube could be extrapolated to what might happen in living human tissue.
This year, though, a landmark study was published, pitting 34 common vegetables against 8 different types of human cancers. Breast cancer, brain tumors, kidney cancer, lung cancer, childhood brain tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer.
Let’s look at breast cancer—I’ll cover up the. What’s being measured is tumor cell proliferation. Here’s the control. You drip some water on a human breast tumor, and nothing happens—it’s still powering away at 100% growth rate. And these 7 vegetables appear useless against breast cancer, no different than placebo. But these 6 cut the cancer growth rate in half. And these 5 at the end stopped cancer growth completely—stopped these tumor cells dead in their tracks.
Take-home message #1: we need to eat a portfolio of vegetables. Take a look: radishes, do nothing against pancreatic cancer, in fact if anything they might accelerate growth but, against stomach cancer, they completely eliminated tumor cell growth. On the other hand, orange bell peppers don’t do much for stomach cancer, but can cut prostate cancer growth by more than 75%. So we need to eat a variety of vegetables, because each one tends to target different cancers.
If you’re particularly concerned about a specific cancer, like if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, then you can narrow it down and really nail those 5 or 6 veggies every day that excel at targeting breast tissue. But otherwise, to fight against any kind of cancer, we’ve got to eat a portfolio of vegetables to cover all our bases.
That doesn’t mean some veggies aren’t better than others. Some of these vegetables target multiple cancers at the same time. So using this groundbreaking new data, let’s play “Which is healthier.”
Imagine you’re standing in line at one of those custom made-to-order salad places, where you get to choose your lettuce, choose your toppings, then choose your dressing. Lets assume that you don’t have a strong family history of any particular cancer, and so aren’t trying to hone in on avoiding one tumor over another.
First, let’s choose our lettuce. Boston, endive, radicchio, romaine, or spinach?
Out of the five, spinach is #1 against breast cancer—remember, the farther right the better it is at slowing down these cancer cells. #1 against brain tumors, #1 against kidney cancer, #1 against lung cancer, #1 against pediatric brain tumors—feed your kids spinach! #1 against pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and #1 against stomach cancer.
Now note it’s not #1 overall—there are 16 vegetables more powerful at stopping stomach cancer growth than spinach, but out of those five salad greens, spinach wins out across the board, against every cancer type tested.
What if the salad place said they were out of spinach, though? Which comes in second out of the four left to choose from.
For breast cancer, radicchio is #2. against brain tumors. radicchio, kidney cancer, radicchio, radicchio, romaine, radicchio, radicchio, and radicchio. So overall, out of those choices for greens, radicchio is number 2.
Back to the menu. Next we get to choose 4 toppings. Now there’s a long line of people behind you, all staring at you to make your choice. You don’t have time to ponder and pick the 4 absolute best, but you can at least make a guess as to roughly where on the graph they are.
Yes or no? According to this amazing new data, do carrots slow cancer cell growth rates more than 50%? Yes or no?
The answer is no. No, no, no, no, no, no, and no. So shredded carrots aren’t going to make our top four toppings choice.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on vegetables and cancer. Also, there are 1,448 other subjectscovered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer and the first monthFoods That May Block Cancer Formation, and Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on vegetables and cancer. Also, there are 1,448 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Scott Harris

    When I click on the article under “Sources Cited,” I do NOT get that article, but rather one with a similar name from 2002 with different authors. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Scott–thank you so much for finding that! The link was wrong but has now been corrected.

  • maybush1

    Dr. Greger,

    I was interested in your take on what the abstract of this cited paper says with respect to antioxidant levels of the vegetables tested and the anticancer affects they have. I’m actually very surprised!! The abstract says:

    “The antiproliferative effect of vegetables was specific to cells of cancerous origin and was found to be **largely independent** of their antioxidant properties.” [my emphasis]

    So, what this seems to me to be saying is that we may not want to be focusing on the antioxidant levels of plant-based foods afterall (at least not for possible anti-cancer affects)…??

  • Fredrick Hahn

    Here’s the thing – there is no magic to vegetables. People who have cancer and remove refined sugars from their diet significantly decrease the #1 fuel source of virtually all cancers – and that is glucose.

    But to combat cancer even better, adopting a VLCKD is the best choice. This would entail removing virtually all carbohydrate from the diet.

    This deals with brain cancer but since virtually all cancers use glucose as their fuel source, a VLCKD should work in the same manner and other research papers have shown such.

    Other resources:

    There is no magic to vegetables. There is just much harm in processed sugars and high blood glycemia.

    • Toxins

      Its funny you keep talking about “fueling” the cancer with glucose when ALL our cells run on glucose. Again, eliminating carbohydrates does not make any sense. Your health outlook is severely skewed to viewing all carbohydrates as bad, which is plain wrong. It has been shown that cancer proliferation does in fact cease with certain vegetables.

      • Fredrick Hahn

        That paper shows how certain plant components affect cancer in a lab, not in the human body.

        You said:

        “Its funny you keep talking about “fueling” the cancer with glucose when ALL our cells run on glucose.”

        No they don’t. They can, but not always. They can run just fine on fat and ketone bodies – better in fact. And glucose can and is made via gluconeogenesis. No need for carbs in the diet at all in order to obtain all the glucose you need. I’m amazed you don’t know that.

        And cancer cells DO feed on glucose. Have you not read the research? Allow me to start you on your journey:

        “Again, eliminating carbohydrates does not make any sense.”

        It makes perfect sense to keep blood glucose levels normal best done by limiting carbohydrate intake. And it sure matters a lot to the diabetic.

        “Your health outlook is severely skewed to viewing all carbohydrates as bad, which is plain wrong.”

        Strawman. I never said that. I’ve said many times that most vegetables and some seasonal fruits are quite good for you. It’s the grains that need to go.

        “It has been shown that cancer proliferation does in fact cease with certain vegetables.”

        Really? Show me the research that supports this.

        And again, the idea that vegetables are the reason for a slowing of cancer fail to take into account that when people have cancer and go vegan, they also remove all the junk food from their diets. THAT is what is most responsible for the slowing down of cancer not the vegetables themselves.

        I challenge you to put up your most recent blood panel. Here are my fasting numbers from 5/2011 (I’m 50 yrs. old):

        HDL: 83
        HDL3: 61
        LDL: 174
        LDL Pattern: A (large buoyant)
        HbA1c: 5.6
        Triglycerides direct: 57
        CRP: 1.0

        • Toxins

          2 links Frederick,

          Regardless if it was in a lab, the fact that these vegetables affected the cancer cells themselves, to the extent of stopping the growth, sends a powerful message. Let’s see beef extracts do that in a lab.

          The paleo diet is not supported by any credible health foundation, for good reason. Ketosis is harmful in the long run, as explained thoroughly by Dr. Greger, i dont need to do any copy and pasting for that. From what i understand by your response, u view vegetables as vitamins and water. Antioxidants and phytonutrients in vegetables are what makes them so healthy and helps prevent cancer. Go look at the many studies Dr. Greger cites from this link

          Showing the marked decrease in cancer risk with vegetables consumption and how meat significantly increases this risk.
          I am assuming since you think grains are so bad that the past rural Japanese populations, that had most of their diet comprised of rice, had short lifespans and poor health? No, they thrived. They were known to be typically centenarians. Same story for the Okinawan.

          P.S. I have never had a blood test taken (last time i remember I was 6 years old), I have not had any bodily issues.

  • Anne-Marie

    Hi Michael or any volunteer,
    I want to know if it’s possible to have the complete article cited in this video. It will be useful for me.
    Anne-Marie Roy

  • krandersen

    Dr. Gregor, first of all, thank you! Love the site!

    In this video you didn’t reveal the full lifting of the vegetables and their respective rankings in the charts relative to different cancers. Do you address that else where? Would love to see full charts with veggies listed. Thanks.

  • Shivamoon

    Thank you, Dr. Gregor. Excellent information.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Breast Cancer and Diet!

  • Sergei

    Dr. Greger,

    I pulled the paper you cited. Figure 1
    puzzles me. Yes, garlic kills all tumor cells. But I also see that
    orange bell peppers and radish make pancreatic carcinoma worse (even if
    you account for the error). The same goes for jalapeno and tomato in
    case of lung cancer. Does this mean we should stop eating these


    • Toxins

      No, of course not! This is all in vitro which means outside of the body. These vegetables are good guidelines but they are not solid proof that cancer will completely stop in their presence in vivo until further studies are done. Keep eating your bell peppers and jalapenos with a peace of mind.

  • Janet

    Dr. Greger,

    My question is about the study(ies) relating to brain tumors and spinach and beet roots demonstrating anticancer effects. Did the study(ies) include oligodendrogliomas?

    Thank you for posting these videos–they are very informative!

  • tracy c

    My son is 25 and sadly just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is having 5 weeks aggressive chemo and then Whipple surgery. I just started him on a whole foods plant based diet with two fresh green juices a day. A big raw salad and lightly steamed cruciferous veggies with fresh garlic or fresh garlic dressing. Is there anything else I should feed him? He has beans and hole grains and sweet potatoes too. I need to get as much tumor fighting food in his body to combat the cancer.

  • tracy c

    * whole* not hole

  • Tobias Brown

    As much as I’m a fan, I don’t see the connection between the effect of these vegetables on cancer outside the human body. It’s quite a leap for me to accept that the outcome of these petri dish studies have anything to do with what goes on in our bodies. There may be an influence but then… how do we know that in a real bodily context the other veggies don’t have a powerful effect as well. I want to believe it and I’m excited to eat more of the powerful veggies, but I can’t help but doubt the validity of this science. (Again, you take a simple lab context and correlate this to an immensely more complicated human body context.) Please, I’d like to think otherwise.

  • Tobias Brown

    What does the study mean by “living human cancers”? Where these in living human bodies or outside them? The earlier studies required a leap of faith, why don’t these studies also require a leap of faith? Don’t get me wrong, I tend to want to believe it. But my mind requires me to question this…

  • guest

    Author George Johnson has just published a book entitled The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery in which he apparently (I haven’t read the book yet) claims that “large-scale studies have failed to show a strong relationship between consuming more fruits and vegetables and a lower incidence of cancer.” This quote is from a Mother Jones magazine article on the book, and it goes on to cite how “clinical trials using vitamin supplements have actually shown increased risk of cancer in certain populations, and have cast doubt on the significance of micronutrients in reducing your overall mortality.”

    Do you have any comments on this? I’d expect the book to have a more nuanced discussion; perhaps the Mother Jones article conflated consumption of vitamin supplements with consumption of whole vegetables containing those vitamins, which, from my understanding of your research reviews, are two very different modalities?

  • bobcchicago

    Dr. Greger,

    Great video. Please tell me where is the vegetable breakdowns for specific cancers? Thank you.

  • Robert Taylor

    will garlic, bell peppers and beet help in the cure of prostate cancer