Superfoods That Lower Lung Cancer Risk

There are many risk factors for lung cancer, some of which are avoidable. But there are actually some things you can add to your life to reduce your risk. Certainly, exercise has been shown to make a difference, but what you put in your mouth is important as well. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables appears to have a protective role against the development of lung cancer. 

If you have not had cancer, consider eating foods and nutrients that may lower your risk of lung cancer. If you already have lung cancer nutrients that may help prevent lung cancer might still be important, and in fact, some of the treatments for lung cancer can increase the risk of developing ​a second cancer.



A large study published in PLOS One found that the dietary intake of flavonoids—abundant in apples—was inversely proportional to lung cancer risk. In other words, more was better.

The intake of total flavonoids, flavonols, flavones, and flavanones, as well as the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol, was significantly associated with a decreased risk of smoking-related cancer. For those who have never smoked, one of these compounds, called flavanones, also lowered risk. 

While the entire apple is rich in these compounds, they are especially plentiful in the skins, so you may want to leave the peeler in the drawer. Since apple skins are included in making apple cider, this may be a better choice than apple juice if you wish to consume your apples in liquid form.



In the past, it was thought that garlic had anticancer effects based on what researchers found in animals and the lab. A study in China found that people who consumed raw garlic two or more times per week dropped their risk of lung cancer by 44%.

The key may be eating garlic raw, as the compound diallyl sulphide, thought to be responsible for these effects, is greatly decreased by cooking or pickling. When you mince garlic, leave it open to the air for 10 minutes before adding it to your food or sauteing as this allows chemical reactions to take place that enhance the cancer-protective actions of garlic.

Garlic has been looked at for a possible role in health for treating high blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, and even warding off the common cold.



Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli pack a big punch in the cancer reduction armory.

Compounds in cruciferous vegetables, such as glucosinates, were found to reduce the risk of lung cancer overall by up to 21% to 32%, especially in women.

If you don't care for broccoli, don't despair, as there are many alternatives.

Other veggies classified as cruciferous include:

  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Watercress
  • Horseradish
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Rutabaga
  • Wasabi
  • Turnips


Eating fish may have a protective role against the development of lung cancer. A review and meta-analysis of studies performed up until 2012 found that high fish consumption was associated with a significant reduction in lung cancer risk; those who consumed more fish had roughly a 21% lower chance of developing lung cancer.

Of course, a reduction in lung cancer risk is not the only benefit of the omega- fatty acids in fish. It's thought that these also aid in reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. In fact, the benefits of omega-3s in health are significant that it's recommended that people eat fish twice a week for heart disease prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that pregnant women eat fatty fish at least once weekly to benefit the baby's developing brain.


Red Peppers

Red bell peppers, as well as red chili peppers, contain a phytochemical (plant-based chemical) called capsaicin—part of what gives these foods a spicy little kick. It was found that capsaicin suppressed the development of lung cancer in Swiss mice that were exposed to a chemical which can cause cancer. Capsaicin may do this by inducing apoptosis, that is, by eliminating abnormal cells before they can divide and become a cancerous tumor.

While we can't necessarily apply studies in mice to humans, red bell and red chili peppers are a nice way to add a little spice and color to your diet as well.

Capsaicin may also play a role in weight loss and lowering triglycerides.


Green Tea

Green tea may help with more than just lung cancer reduction. In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian screening trial, a study which looked at nearly 100,000 people, green tea was associated not only with a reduction in the incidence of lung cancer but of cancer overall.

Adding a touch of lemon may increase the absorption of important compounds in green tea, whereas adding cream (or other dairy products) may bind with these compounds and negate their positive effects.



Spinach is rich in folate, a vitamin found to lower the risk of lung cancer in several studies, and in one, reduced the risk of lung cancer in former smokers by up to 40%. Why is this important? Currently around 60% of people who develop lung cancer are former, not current, smokers. You can't change habits you may have had in college, but a healthy diet today might make a difference. 

In addition to cancer reduction, folate may play a role in preventing high blood pressure

Spinach is also rich in the nutrient lutein, another lung cancer-fighting compound. Lutein acts as an antioxidant in the body, fighting off free radicals generated by cancer-causing substances in our environment as well as normal metabolic processes in the body.



Red meat, especially processed meats, have gotten a bad rap in recent years, and the story continues with lung cancer. A review of reliable studies to date found that red meat intake was associated with a 35% increase in lung cancer risk, but the opposite was true for chicken. 

High poultry intake was associated with a 10% decreased risk in lung cancer, while also being a good source of protein.



Onions contain quercetin, a compound that appears to have an inverse relationship with the development of lung cancer. In other words, a greater dietary intake of onions is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.

In addition to cancer risk, quercetin may lessen chronic inflammation and decrease atherosclerosis.

Onions can be added to just about any casserole or soup, or fixed alone in a number of ways.


Wheat Germ

Wheat germ is one of the highest sources of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) followed by sunflower seeds and almonds.

In the Shanghai Women's Health Study, a clinical study looking at over 72,000 Chinese female non-smokers, it was found that women who were exposed to high doses of sidestream smoke in the home and workplace were 47% less likely to develop lung cancer if they consumed a diet high in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol.)

This study was also very important in demonstrating an important point: Women who took a vitamin E supplement instead of consuming vitamin E in dietary form, actually had an increased risk of developing lung cancer. It's not certain why this is the case. Perhaps there are as yet undiscovered compounds in foods containing vitamin E that are not present in supplements, or that for some reason taking vitamin E in tablet form acts in a different way in the body's metabolism. But this illustrates the importance of looking at diet as an avenue to a healthy lifestyle, rather than relying on supplements alone.


Butternut Squash

Butternut squash contains a substance called beta-cryptoxanthin that has been found repeatedly to lower the risk of lung cancer. The decrease in risk is on the order of 15 to 40% depending on the study, for those with the greatest dietary intake of this compound. While some studies showed greater effects than others, a diet rich in foods containing this substance appears to be particularly helpful for people who smoke. Again, as with vitamin E, those who attempt to get this ingredient via a supplement may have an increased rather than decreased risk of developing lung cancer.

In addition to playing a role in lung cancer reduction, beta-cryptoxanthin may play a role in reducing arthritis. Beta-cryptoxanthin may also be found in tangerines, persimmons, and the spices cayenne pepper, paprika, and chili powder.



We've talked about many foods which could help reduce the risk of lung cancer but so far have left out one very important component of a cancer-fighting diet: spices.

It's been found that Mediterranean spices such as rosemary, sage, parsley, and oregano not only have several health benefits but are inversely related to the risk of developing lung cancer. These spices contain a compound called carnisol, which attacks several of the pathways needed by abnormal cells to become cancerous.

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  3. Song J, Su H, Wang BL, Zhou YY, Guo LL. Fish consumption and lung cancer risk: systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Cancer. 2014;66(4):539-49. doi:10.1080/01635581.2014.894102

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  5. Hashibe M, Galeone C, Buys SS, et al. Coffee, tea, caffeine intake, and the risk of cancer in the PLCO cohort. Br J Cancer. 2015;113(5):809-16. doi:10.1038/bjc.2015.276

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