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Functional Foods & Cancer Prevention

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June 26, 2019

Amy: Today, we are discussing “Functional Foods and their Role in Cancer Prevention”.  Hello, I’m  Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family. Today, we are speaking with Eva McCormick, Mississippi State University undergraduate extension apprentice in Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion.

Eva, can you begin by telling our listeners why functional foods are important?

Eva: Many people are unaware that incorporating a variety of functional foods, such as fruits and vegetables, into their diet could be beneficial for health and longevity and help to prevent cancer from forming. For example,Yes, this topic is important because cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and it is estimated that one in four people will have cancer in their lifetime. It is also An estimated 30% of cancer cases are related to diet. Increasing functional food consumption may reduce the risk of many of these illnesses, like cancer.

Amy: What, exactly, are functional foods?

Eva:  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognize an official definition for functional foods but they are defined as foods that provide health benefits beyond meeting basic nutritive needs and may reduce risk of certain diseases. Functional foods include conventional foods- which naturally contain the functional nutrients, such as fruits and vegetables, fortified foods which have nutrients that may have been lost in processing added back such as cereals and whole grain breads, enhanced or enriched foods-such as vitamin D added to milk and orange juice.

Amy: Now that we know the definition of functional foods, can you describe their role and relation to cancer prevention?

Eva: There are multiple components in functional foods that protect against cancer, two of the most common include; fiber and antioxidants. One way that fiber helps to prevent cancer is by moving food through the digestive track to reduce formation of polyps that may become cancerous.  Antioxidants, like Vitamin C in oranges, bind to free-radicals in the body to reduce cancer development. A diet low in fat and rich in fiber and antioxidants may reduce the risk of many cancers. This statement is echoed by the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for cancer prevention which states: “Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods.”

Amy: You mentioned plant foods, can you expand on the types of foods that contain these beneficial nutrients?

Eva: Fruits and vegetables are rich in both antioxidants and fiber. Vitamins A, C, and E are naturally present antioxidants. Foods with darker, richer colors like orange, yellow, blue, and red are generally higher in antioxidant content. It is recommended to eat a fruit and vegetable rainbow – meaning eat a variety of fruit and vegetable colors.  Oats and nuts are also great sources of fiber and an easy snack or addition to a meal.

Amy: What are some ways that our listeners could incorporate these foods into their diets?

Eva: In early summer, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, and bell peppers are in season and they will be easy to find and lower in cost.. Eating tomatoes and peaches with a healthy fat helps to increase absorption of their functional nutrients. A bowl of yogurt with peaches and/or strawberries and granola could be a great breakfast or snack option. An easy side for lunch or supper would be to toss chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, or other vegetables of choice, in olive oil and Italian seasoning and roast them in the oven.  

Amy: Is there anything else you would like our listeners to know about foods?

Eva: I would like to reiterate that there is scientific evidence to support the use of functional foods in lowering the risk of developing cancer, not in curing cancer. If you found this topic interesting and would like to learn more about functional foods, you can visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at and search “functional foods” or visit MSU Extension for more nutrition tips!

Amy: Today, we’ve been speaking with Eva McCormick. I’m Amy Myers and this has been Farm & Family

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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