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Cancer-Fighting and Healthy Desserts

2022-09-09   ◆   4 minutes read
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Although desserts bring a lot of joy and pleasure to the world, they gained a reputation for decadence and unhealthiness. Now, as you may know, anything that we consume in excess cannot be good for us. Nevertheless, there are so many healthy desserts in the world. And some are not only healthy but also have cancer-fighting benefits. There’s a lot of research to sift through and there are a lot of claims out there, but we’ve worked through it to show you that at the end of the day what you eat is your choice and you can pick and choose what is best for your health.

A few strawberries dipped in dark chocolate with a drizzle of white chocolate on top
Fresh and healthy strawberries dipped in chocolate

Antioxidants and Phytochemicals

You may have heard a lot of buzz about antioxidants and phytochemicals in relation to their cancer-fighting effects. With cancer as the leading cause of death in Canada in 2021, researchers have addressed many different angles for potential cures to choose from. Antioxidants and phytochemicals have had some really remarkable results. And in the realm of the diet’s effect on cancer prevention, they are really front-runners. Let’s look a bit into what these actually do.

Antioxidants

The positive effects that antioxidants have on the body have a huge reputation, but how do they work exactly? It’s mostly linked to molecules we call “free radicals.” There are a couple of factors that create free radicals in the body, including normal bodily processes and external impacts like cigarette smoke. These free radicals can wreak havoc in the body by attacking and stealing healthy cells’ electrons. This damage to the DNA can lead to cancer growth. Antioxidants help reduce free radicals in the body by lending the free radicals their extra electrons, thus blocking unhealthy cell damage and growth.

An animated image of an antioxidant giving an electron to a free radical that is stealing one from a healthy atom
How antioxidants protect healthy atoms from free radicals

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are only found in plants and cannot be supplemented. Some have the added bonus of acting as antioxidants. They have the ability to interfere with DNA replication which helps protect the cells from cancer. Phytochemicals also stimulate enzymes, as well as being anti-bacterial in the body which can contribute to better overall health.

Phytochemicals have: Antioxidant activity, cancer preventing compounds, DNA replications interference, anti-bacterial effects, nutrient bioavailability reduction, enzyme stimulation, and they act as hormones
Phytochemicals and their many roles in the body

Nutrients to Look For

It’s important to note before, that all cancers are different and that people react differently to nutrients. These nutrients have wonderful effects but an excess can have adverse reactions to the point where too much can actually cause cancer. Follow recommended doses and speak with your doctor further about if a nutrient you’re interested in is right for you. 

 

  • Omega 3: It has a lot of amazing health benefits that help us build and maintain health; one of which is helping to reduce inflammation. Many experts believe that some cancers can be caused by chronic inflammation and that is one of the reasons why Omega 3 is so helpful. For people fighting cancer, it can also help with appetite during chemotherapy, which is crucial in maintaining strength and a healthy weight.

 

  • Vitamin C: A very beneficial antioxidant that helps the healing process by supplying the necessary building blocks to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen in your bones. Even though it’s a crucial vitamin, our bodies don’t produce Vitamin C on their own; we have to consume foods that contain it. 


  • Beta carotene: A nutrient found predominantly in plants and actually becomes Vitamin A when we digest it. Although beta carotene and Vitamin A do not prevent cancer on their own, the American Cancer Society has found they can increase white blood cell count. White blood cells contribute to the body’s immune system and fight infection and kill the early stages of cancer cells.


  • Fiber: Consumption of Fiber is part of a healthy diet in general and a lot of research has been done on its ability to prevent colon cancer specifically. Fibers come from plants and are split into two groups; soluble and insoluble, both of which are necessary for a healthy diet. Soluble fibers are associated with a lower risk of chronic illness. While insoluble fibers help maintain a healthy digestive tract by easing the digestion process, still they do not actually get digested! 

 

  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids have been found to increase autophagy, which is the body’s process of getting rid of damaged cells so it can make new and healthy ones. They are another antioxidant on this list that is found in many fruits and vegetables. They are receiving a lot of interesting study results in cancer research and have many beneficial effects on our bodies.

Foods High in Antioxidants & Phytochemicals (and Some Delicious Desserts!)

Apples

Of all the fruits and vegetables, studies have shown that apples have one of the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Specifically, procyanidins are the antioxidant of interest because they were actually found to signal cells to destroy cancer cells. They are also high in flavonoids antioxidants and for many cultures, they are the population’s main source of flavonoid intake even. Because of these promising results, many studies have been done on apples’ roles in the prevention of cancer cells.

A crispy and delicious looking apple pie next to fresh apples
Quebec Apple Pie with a thick yummy crust
  • Apple “nachos”: Cut up some apples into slices and drizzle them with yummy sauce or dip them in dark chocolate.
  • Apple Pie: An absolute classic!
  • Baked apples: Baked apples with low-fat yogurt on the side

Cranberry-Apple Hazelnut Crumble: You’ll only need a little sugar to make this a sweet and tasty treat!

Berries

There are so many different delicious berries to choose from! Blueberries are one of the most renowned foods for their antioxidant properties, and for good reason. Blueberries are very high in Vitamin C and flavonoids, called anthocyanosides, which are one of the most potent antioxidants. Acai berries contain flavonoids called anthocyanins and have 10 times the amount of antioxidants than blueberries.  Blackberries also have anthocyanosides along with many other vitamins and minerals that help strengthen the immune system. 

 

Did you know that strawberries actually have 31% more Vitamin C than oranges (per 100 grams)? One cup gives you 100% of your daily recommendation. Raspberries have a juicy amount of flavonoids in them as well, giving them all those antioxidant effects. If you’ve got berries in your dessert, especially when they’re fresh, you’ve got some good nutrients!

A fresh blueberry tart with a mountain of glistening blueberries on top

Tea

Although Green Tea and black tea have reputations for their antioxidant effects, all types of tea have the phytochemical that makes them effective. The specific phytochemical, polyphenol, is higher in green and black teas but there’s actually a tea that has more antioxidants than either of them: flor de Jamaica. This tea is also known as Jamaica Flowers or Hibiscus Tea. Tea has the same effects of helping reduce free radicals as any antioxidant, and can also help protect cells from DNA damage.

Hibiscus Mousse with 4 layers of delicious beige and pink mousses
Cry of Love Hibiscus Raspberry Mousse

Tea-Based Desserts

Soybeans

Soy has had a controversial history with its effects on cancer. Some testing done on rodents suggested the isoflavones found in soy lead to breast cancer growth. However, there have been many studies done on this since that’s found that rodents and humans process soy in vastly different ways. The general consensus in dietary communities is that not only is soy safe for humans, but it also has wonderful positive effects on cancer-fighting processes. Soy is filled with protein, phytochemicals, Omega 3, and fiber, making it nourishing and healthy. You can find soy in many forms including beans, tofu, edamame, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy sour cream, and soy nuts. You can check out our blog on Tofu Desserts for a wide selection of soy-based desserts.

Lemon cheezecake with a beautiful green swirl on top

Desserts with Soy

  • Soy pudding: A yummy, easy-to-eat snack or dessert with many flavours!
  • Lemon Cheezecake: Who doesn’t love cheesecake?
  • Black Sheep Vegan Cheese: Made from tofu, nuts, and coconut, every variety is delicious, plus they are made in Armstrong, B.C.

Cocoa

Cocoa has amazing health benefits! It is very rich in flavonoids making it an effective antioxidant, and it has been found to have positive effects on blood pressure and circulation. It also has Omega 3 and fiber. Of course, the benefits can be outweighed if it’s paired with excess sugar and dairy, so try to keep it above 70% if you’re looking for these benefits.

A chocolate bar from Qantu
Dark Chocolate bar made in Montreal, Quebec

Chocolate Desserts

Bananas

Technically (and strangely) bananas should be in the berry section! But we’re giving it its own section today. Less surprisingly than its classification, there have been a lot of studies on the benefits of bananas and their cancer-fighting effects. Unfortunately, a lot of it doesn’t so much apply to desserts because it’s nutrients that are present in green bananas or banana peels. However bananas are very high in Vitamin C and fiber, which make them helpful in antioxidant-ways.

A scoop of white banana ice cream with a pink swirl on top of fresh bananas, strawberries, and oranges
Tutti-Frutti ice cream that’s a base of fruits, berries, and most importantly, bananas

Banana Desserts

  • Cocoa Banana Chia Pudding: Best of both worlds! Even has some chia which is rich in antioxidants and high-quality protein
  • Tutti Frutti Ice Cream: Made with real fruit, but tastes like candy. The base of this ice cream is a cheeky concoction of banana, orange, lemon, and vanilla which resembles bubblegum
  • Dried banana: Thin sheets of dried banana.
  • Banana bread: The comforting classic 

Kale

Kale has several phytochemicals in it and nutrients that help reduce inflammation, including flavonoids, beta-carotene, fiber, anthocyanins, and Glucosinolates. And as such, kale has a great reputation as being a superfood. Although greens aren’t typically what comes to mind first when you think of desserts, there are some great innovations in the sweets world that are opening doors for healthy desserts!

A Mighty Kale Veggie Smoothie from Jugo Juice

Desserts with Kale

  • Kale smoothie: Kale, organic spirulina, pineapples, banana & orange juice
  • Kale Chocolate Chip Cookies: Barely taste kale in these delicious cookies
  • Kale Cake: No need for food colouring when a cake can look and taste this good
  • Kale chips: A delicious snack as salty as you want it
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Chickpeas

Chickpeas are known to trigger a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate that helps rid the body of sick and dying cells. It also helps to increase some antioxidants in the body such as glutathione. And like many others on this list, they have other benefits such as helping with digestion and even mental health. Chickpeas have a buttery, nutty taste that makes them perfect for desserts!

Persian Nan-e-nokhodchi Cookies in the shapes of flowers on a white plate

Desserts with Chickpeas

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are very protein-rich, full of fiber, and many are a great source of Omega 3 too. The quantity of phytochemicals and Omega 3 in flaxseed, for instance, has been studied for its effects on breast cancer. Walnuts are being studied for their ability to slow or even prevent the growth of breast cancer and other walnut health benefits. And it’s not very much that you need to eat, only one or two ounces per day depending on the nut.

Crispy and flakey baklava with walnuts

Desserts with Nuts

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Marathon of Hope

Terry Fox was a Canadian cancer activist who began a national awareness for research and fundraising campaign in 1980. At 18 years old, Terry had been diagnosed with cancer that resulted in the amputation of his right leg. He created a goal to run the 5,373 km across Canada and raise $1 for every Canadian, totaling $24 million. Every year since his historic Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox Runs are held to raise money for cancer research in tribute. Since 1980, The Terry Fox Foundation has worked towards a world without cancer and has raised over 31 times Terry’s original goal. Terry Fox tragically passed away from cancer before he could finish his run across the country but his legacy of perseverance and activism lives on across the country and he is regarded as a national hero.

There are so many creative ways to get cancer-fighting nutrients and foods into your diet. And having them in a little treat can make it all the more special. Terry Fox is just one example that when you make a decision to act upon what you believe in, it can reach new heights. Check out healthy desserts near you with Dessert Advisor, and see how you may be able to improve your long-term health!

About the author

DessertAdvisor.com is an organization dedicated to the research of desserts, baked goods, and snacks. The community maintains one of the largest databases of dessert items and dessert places in Canada. 

With a mission to facilitate foodies’ search for their desired products, the site allows finding locations that dessert items are sold at, enhances knowledge on various treats (i.e., variety, flavours, health benefits, history, origins, etc.), and enables people to enjoy the wealth of life.

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