by Marion Nestle
Jul 19 2007

Do Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Cancer Recurrence?

Oh that nutrition and health were that simple. The The WHEL trial results appeared yesterday in JAMA. The sadly disappointing results of that trial showed no difference in rates of breast cancer recurrence among women who typically ate 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day as compared to those who ate nearly twice that amount. I served on the data management committee for this trial and was involved with it for more than 10 years–a fascinating experience and a long saga.  I thought the trial was exceptionally well done. The investigators monitored fruit and vegetable intake by measuring the amounts of carotenes and other nutrients in the blood of the participants. Although there was some convergence of dietary patterns over the 8 years of study, the patterns were distinct enough to show benefits from eating more fruits and vegetables if that had been the case. An accompanying editorial explains why sorting out diet and cancer risk is so complicated. In the meantime, what to do? We know that people who habitually eat fruits and vegetables are healthier than those who don’t. The old “five-a-day” is a reasonable goal and it’s too bad that the promoters of that message messed it up by turning it into “fruits & vegetables: more matters.” As with most things in nutrition, enough is enough and more is not necessarily better.

  • Beth

    Marion, I’ve really enjoyed your book and found it extremely eye-opening. My question is… should I be buying organic juice for my toddler who drinks lots of juice?

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  • Theresa

    I love your book & recommend it to everyone I know. Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t heard a word spoken on lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, charred grilled foods. I avoid eating foods that contain nitrites and wonder what your thoughts are on this subject.

  • A few years ago, I was a member of a committee of the American Cancer Society that wrote FAQs about diet and health. I posted the site on my Blogroll (see link at upper right). Check out the response to “Meat: Preserved and Processed.” And thanks for writing!

  • Hmm … that editorial draws some faulty conclusions. For example:

    “Of further concern is that baseline mean total daily caloric intakes were 1719 kcal in the intervention group and 1717 kcal in the comparison group, but by year 6, the respective mean total daily caloric intakes were 1538 kcal and
    1559 kcal, respectively. In the absence of changes in physical activity, it would be expected that an average decrease of nearly 180 kcal per day would result in a decrease in body weight during the study period. However, these women experienced small increases in body weight during the study period. These results call into question the validity of some components of the self-reported dietary data.”

    Instead of concluding that the data was reported incorrectly, could one not also include that low-calorie diets are not effective for weight loss? That reducing calories leads to reduced muscle mass but increased adipose mass?

  • CANCER – is not a disease –

    “We have lost the war on cancer due to our heavy reliance on toxic, pharmaceutical drugs and a Health system driven by money. And in doing so, we’ve forgotten how to trust the wisdom and power of whole foods and principles of health for avoiding disease, remaining vital and living long.”…………………

    I have committed my working life to the discovery of the ancient wisdom in these areas that so desperately needs to be revisited, understood and shared with the current and coming generations.

    Cancer is not a Disease – It’s a Survival Mechanism (Book Excerpt)

    Cancer patients typically suffer from lack of self-respect or worthiness, and often have what I call an “unfinished business” in their life.

    “Cancer does not cause a person to be sick; it is the sickness of the person that causes the cancer.”
    To treat cancer successfully requires the patient to become whole again on all levels of his body, mind and spirit.
    Read more about CANCER on my website. My mother died from cancer, and I have been researching for the past 26 years.

    love olya

  • Anti-Cancer Effects of Coconut Oil

    Hope you all find this as interesting as I did.

    In 1987 Lim-Sylianco published a 50-year literature review showing the anti-cancer effects of coconut oil. In chemically induced cancers of the colon and breast, coconut oil was by far more protective than unsaturated oils.

    For example 32% of corn oil eaters got colon cancer whereas only 3% of coconut oil eaters got the cancer.

    Animals fed unsaturated oils had more tumors.

    This shows the thyroid-suppressive and hence, immuno-suppressive effect of unsaturated oils. (Cohen et al. 1986).

    When Albert Schweitzer operated his clinic in tropical Africa, he said that it was many years before he saw a single case of cancer. He believed that the appearance of cancer was caused by introduction of the European diet to the Africans. Many studies since the 1920’s have shown an association between consumption of unsaturated oils and the incidence of cancer.

    Antimicrobial (Antiseptic) Effects of Coconut Oil

    Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids such as lauric (C-12), caprylic (C-10) and myristic (C-14) acids.

    Of these three, coconut oil contains 40% lauric acid, which has the greater anti-viral activity of these three fatty acids. Lauric acid is so disease fighting that it is present in breast milk.

    The body converts lauric acid to a fatty acid derivative (monolaurin), which is the substance that protects infants from viral, bacterial or protozoal infections. This was recognized and reported in 1966 (Jon Kabara). Work by Hierholzer and Kabara (1982) showed that monolaurin has virucidal effects on RNA and DNA viruses, which are surrounded by a lipid membrane. In addition to these RNA and DNA viruses, in 1978, Kabara and others reported that certain medium chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid have adverse effects on other pathogenic microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast and fungi. These fatty acids and their derivatives actually disrupt the lipid membranes of the organisms and thus inactivate them (Isaacs and Thormar 1991; Isaacs et al. 1992). This deactivation process also occurs in human and bovine milk when fatty acids are added to them (Isaacs et al. 1991).

    It would seem that this saturated fat is actually of benefit to your health.

  • Samantha – aged 12

    your web page doesnt answer a question i would like answered. what fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer? your book is amazing!!

  • All fruits and vegetables contain substances that could be involved in cancer prevention. Two good sources of this information: The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Cancer Prevention (the web address is and the American Institute for Cancer Research ( With anything having to do with diet, variety is what counts. So eat the fruits and vegetables you like, be as active as you can, and enjoy eating! Thanks for writing.

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