Flavonoids Can Protect Women from Ovarian Cancer

New study finds women who eat certain veggies and fruits have lower ovarian cancer risk.

April 27, 2009

Celery may fight cancer...but eat other veggies, too.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Natural plant-based chemicals called flavonoids, found in fruits, vegetables, and a few other types of food we eat, have already been found to protect us against cholesterol and skin cancer. Now, a recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer finds they may protect against ovarian cancer as well.

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THE DETAILS: Researchers analyzed the diets of roughly 2,300 women—1,141 women who had ovarian cancer and 1,183 women who did not. The women filled out questionnaires asking how many times they ate certain types of food in a given time frame. Using that data, researchers estimated the women’s intake of five types of flavonoids found in red wine and certain vegetables and fruits. The scientists didn’t notice any correlation between ovarian cancer risk and total flavonoid intake. But one particular flavonoid type, apigenin, found in red wine, celery, and tomato sauce, did appear to lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. The greatest reductions in cancer risk were seen in women who consumed those as well as cauliflower and raisins.

WHAT IT MEANS: While it would be great to assume red wine and celery slathered in tomato sauce could be a shield against cancer, this study and others suggest it isn’t just a few individual foods that offer the greatest protection, but interactions of ingredients in various vegetables and fruits. So the best dietary bet seems to be to eat a variety of flavonoid-packed foods and other wholesome ones as well.

Here are a few ways to work flavonoid-rich foods onto your dinner plate:

• Buy organic. Organic fruits and vegetables have been found to contain higher levels of nutrients, including flavonoids, tan chemically grown produce.

• Favor flavonoid-rich foods. In addition to red wine, celery, tomato sauce, cauliflower, and raisins, the study also found slightly lower levels of ovarian cancer risk in women who consumed nuts, chocolate, kale, beans, spinach, and carrots. (Remember to watch the calories when helping yourself to that chocolate; obesity raises cancer risk.)

• Cook for maximum value. It’s great to eat powerhouse produce, but how many of its nutrients enter your body depends on how you’re cooking it. Check out our five tips for cooking vegetables properly.