Top Foods to Fight Breast Cancer
If you notice a lot of pink during October, from advertisements to product packages to football uniforms, it ‘s for a good reason—October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. October is an excellent reminder for women everywhere to take the right steps to help prevent breast cancer. One way to do this is through nutrition, which is responsible in part for an estimated 30 to 40 percent of all cancers.
To help get you started, we’ve compiled two lists—one of foods that can help you stay healthy, and one of foods that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
Let’s start with the good stuff. These foods have shown promising results in studies regarding their cancer-fighting properties. They’re also great for overall health, so incorporate plenty of these foods into your diet.
In 1991, Dr. Talay from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine published a groundbreaking study regarding cancer prevention and diet. One of the first of its kind, Dr. Talay noted that the phytonutrient sulforaphane, found in broccoli and other cruiciferous vegetables, helped to prevent cancerous tumors from developing in animals.
Years later, many other studies verified these findings and continue to do so today. Specifically, sulforaphane supplements have been shown to slow the growth of breast cancer cells, especially in their early stages. Other studies have shown that broccoli alters the levels of proteins required to feed tumor cells, which may help starve off breast cancer cells.
In addition to broccoli and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens are all rich in sulforaphane and should be incorporated into your daily diet.
Beans & Lentils
Beans and lentils are loaded with fiber, which has numerous health benefits. Not only does it help you lose weight and reduce your risk for heart disease, but it may help you keep breast cancer at bay. According to this study, inadequate fiber intake has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Lentils and other high-fiber foods also contain phytic acid, which has also been linked to lower cancer rates. Studies have also shown that phytic acid has the ability to shrink tumors while stopping cancer cells from increasing.
A plant-based diet can help you get more fiber into your diet. In addition to beans and lentils, greens, most non-starchy vegetables, seeds, and nuts are also high in fiber content.
Antioxidants are substances found within foods—mostly fresh fruits and vegetables and grains—that help protect the cells from damage. Because studies have shown that antioxidants prevent the damage associated with cancer, a diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent cancer. Cranberries (fresh, not dried and sweetened) are one antioxidant-rich food that has shown in studies to potentially fight against breast cancer.
You’ve probably heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research shows that it may also keep cancer away, too. Eating one or more apple each day has been associated with lowered risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. In order for it to be effective, however, you have to eat the peel. Scientists attribute the reduced risk of cancer to the high concentration of antioxidants found in apple peels.
The benefits of antioxidant-rich foods extend beyond cancer prevention. They’re also high in fiber and contain no cholesterol or saturated fats. Some of the best antioxidant-rich foods include those fruits and vegetables with the brightest colors: beets, kale, berries, mangoes, carrots, grapes, and cranberries, to name a few.
When it comes to both preventing breast cancer and increasing survival rates in breast cancer patients, flaxseed is one of the strongest contenders. Just 1-4 teaspoons of ground flaxseeds a day have been shown in studies to protect against breast cancer. Flaxseeds are rich in lignans, which are found in many plant-based foods and seeds. In addition to protecting against breast cancer, flaxseeds may also help protect against prostate, colon, and uterine cancers.
One easy way to get more flaxseeds into your diet is by mixing ground flaxseed into your morning smoothies, yogurts, hot and cold cereals, etc. When combined with a plant-based, protein powder, it makes a satisfyingly healthy meal.
Next time you order pizza, think about adding mushrooms to it. According to a study conducted on women in China, consuming fresh mushrooms each day decreased the risk of breast cancer by 64 percent. Research has also shown that eating just five mushrooms a day may be enough to help suppress tumor growth.
If that wasn’t reason enough, white mushrooms also have excellent nutritional value. A cup of white mushrooms contains just 16 calories and very little sodium, but it’s loaded with essential nutrients like B vitamins, potassium, selenium, folate, and even some vitamin D if exposed to sunlight. They’re also versatile—you can eat them raw or sautéed in omelets, salads, pasta, or by themselves.
Now that you know what to eat, here are a few things you should limit (or cut out altogether) to help fight against breast cancer:
The good and bad of alcohol have been studied for years. Research has shown that moderate consumption of alcohol may even help lower the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
However, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk in breast cancer (as well as other types of cancer), with the risk increasing with the amount of alcohol consumed. In fact, up to 5,000 breast cancer deaths each year can be attributed to light drinking. Interestingly, this is not the case for red wine, which actually reduces breast cancer risk when consumed in moderation.
That’s not to say you need to cut out alcohol completely. With alcohol, the key is moderation. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men.
Saturated fat and cholesterol
There’s fat that supports your health, and there’s fat that doesn’t support your health. Saturated fats, trans fat, and LDL cholesterol have been linked to an increased risk in breast cancer, and are thus non-supportive of health when consumed in moderate to high quantities. One study found that a diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of HER-2 negative, hormone-receptor positive breast cancer.
Both trans- and saturated fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory nutrients, which means that their presence in the body may lead to inflammatory responses. And chronic inflammation in the body and has been associated with a host of diseases including cancer.
Foods with the highest levels of saturated fat and cholesterol include fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, and fried foods. Cutting saturated fat from your diet may not only help prevent breast cancer, but it can also keep a number of other health issues, including heart disease and obesity, at bay.
Like the name implies, processed foods are any foods that have been altered from their natural state in order to prevent spoiling or to enhance their taste or appearance. Some of the worst offenders are processed meats, including deli meats, hot dogs, ham, chips, and other “junk food”. Deli meats in particular are loaded with nitrate preservatives that have been shown to increase the risk of different types of cancers.
Additionally, they may also have contaminants, antibiotics, and hormones from the animals they came from.
Keep in mind that not all processed foods are bad—frozen fruits and canned vegetables, for example, are processed, yet they’ve been linked to decreased risk of cancer. As a general rule, high-fat, sugary packaged foods like lunch meat, chips, sweets, and cheese should be avoided.
October may be over, but that doesn’t mean breast cancer awareness needs to end. What you eat—and don’t eat—can play a major role in preventing breast cancer, so be sure to fill up on healthier foods and limit those that aren’t. Your health—and your girls—will thank you for it!
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian