Healthy Eating for Cancer Prevention

While many of us know that a balanced diet and getting regular exercise promotes overall health, especially when we have been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are no specific foods or supplements that can entirely cure any chronic illness from occurring or reoccurring. Fortunately, there are general guidelines that can be effective at decreasing the risk of cancer, and these foods include a plant-based, whole food diet. For those of us with a higher cancer risk — due to a genetic predisposition or personal history — knowing which foods to eat, and which ones to avoid altogether, is information worth consuming! Read on to learn more about the top ten cancer-fighting foods, as well as six to avoid as much as possible.

Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods

1. Dark, Leafy Greens

Mom was right; those leafy greens are good for us. The darker green, the better. Spinach, Kale, Chard and Arugula all pack in carotenoid antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Research shows antioxidants are associated with a significant reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer. Try to eat at least one serving a day, but it's really quite easy to throw a handful of greens into any meal. Top it off with nuts, seeds or beans as a protein source.

2. Fermented, Living Probiotics

The gut microbiome can play important role in maintaining homeostasis in the human body. An imbalance in our guts can lead to pro-inflammatory immune responses and the initiation of disease processes, including cancer. We can find probiotics in things like: Apple cider vinegar, yogurt and kimchi.

3. Healthy, Fatty Fish

Getting our protein from fish is not only low in calories, it’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation associated with breast cancer risk. Consider swapping red meat for salmon, anchovies, trout or tuna. Most experts agree that adding fish to your diet three times per week is more effective than taking a fish oil supplement.

4. Bright, Fresh Citrus

Those colorful oranges, lemons, tangerines and limes calling us from the produce section are chalk-full of vitamins. They’re also brimming with anticancer flavonoid antioxidants like quercetin, hesperetin, and naringenin. Studies show an impressive 10% reduction in the risk of breast cancer development in people who regularly consume these fruits.

5. Garlic (& friends)

Part of the allium family, these impressive veggies contain sulfurous compounds that strengthen our immune system and prevent blood clots. Chives, onions, scallions and leeks are included in this group.

6. Berry, Berry Much

We love strawberries, blackberries and blueberries for their sweet, tangy flavor (who doesn’t?). But we love them even more for the fact that researchers found they may actually destroy breast cancer cells! Darker berries contain up to 50% more antioxidants, while flavonoids and anthocyanins protect against the development and spread of cancer cells. 

7. Hearty Whole Grains

Here’s some good news for carb lovers! Whole grains such as wheat and brown rice have been shown to protect against breast cancer. These healthy carbs are delicious, filling and packed with fiber and antioxidants that also protect against pancreatic, colorectal, stomach, and esophageal cancers.

8. Spice It Up

It’s easy to overlook the ingredients that add flavor to our favorite dishes, but many herbs and spices actually boast health benefits (and sometimes can be used instead of adding a lot of salt). Turmeric is fairly well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Oregano is now being studied for its ability to destroy aggressive breast cancer cells. Other spices that are high in breast cancer fighting properties include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and ginger

9. Green Tea Antioxidants 

This beverage has been famously consumed across the world for centuries and enjoyed for its delicious flavor and aroma. Now, research indicates that green tea may limit the growth of breast cancer cells due to high levels of antioxidants and other naturally occurring compounds. But don't forget your water intake – eight to 10 glasses (8-ounce cups) a day is suggested. 

10. Cruciferous Veggies

Cauliflower continues to have its moment as it shows up in nearly every meal, from cauliflower rice to pizza, to vegetarian “chicken” wings. Its cousins, broccoli and cabbage, may be less popular, but they all share a secret ingredient, glucosinolate. This compound is showing promising potential in the fight and prevention against breast cancer in recent studies. 

Important! 6 Foods to Avoid

The following list contains foods that are linked to higher risk of developing breast cancer. While there are still many factors beyond our control for developing any disease, by avoiding these foods, we’re not only reducing our risk, but improving our quality of life.

1. Red & Processed Meats

Several studies have suggested that the type of saturated fat found in red meat and other animal byproducts may result in the development of breast cancer. In addition, meats that have been preserved by means of smoking, adding curative chemicals or salting have been shown (by a 2018 study) to increase the risk of developing cancer. These include deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, ham and sausage.

Instead, we should be building our plates around vegetables and start considerign meat as the side dish, or really only saving it for special occasions. Especially if we cook meat at high temps (such as frying, broiling, or grilling) – these elevated temperatures can cause toxic byproducts called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which may be carcinogenic.

2. Alcohol

Drinking beer, wine and liquor has been shown to increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 15%Why is that? Alcohol can increase the levels of estrogen and other hormones in our body, which has the ability to increase the risk of recurrence or developing breast cancer. Most experts recommend that breast cancer survivors either abstain from alcohol consumption or limit intake to no more than one drink per day (even better, just a few drinks per week).

3. Refined Sugar & Soda

Added sugar and foods sweetened artificially have been shown to increase inflammation and has been linked to the development of certain cancers. With a consumption rate three times higher than recommended guidelines, people in the United States are at higher risk. 

4. Fast Foods

Junk food or highly processed foods are high in added fat, sugar, sodium and/or refined grains. Eating these kinds of foods often have been linked to obesity, heart disease and breast cancer. Limiting our intake can reduce the risk of several illnesses

5. Greasy Foods

Fried foods have been linked to breast cancer. In one study, they were the single-most significant risk factor for breast cancer development. 

6. Refined Carbohydrates 

Carbs such as white bread and sweets may increase the risk of developing many diseases. These can easily be replaced with healthier, whole grain options. 

As this diet is recommended to lower our risk of breast cancer, it is important to note that no one diet will be the solution to our increased risk for breast cancer. It's important to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle, combined with a healthy diet, a good amount of exercise, sufficient amount of sleep, and proper stress management tools. Each of these factors play a large role in the prevention of breast cancer. Furthermore, it's really quite simple to eat delicious, nutritious foods in line with this diet, which will not only decrease our risk of developing breast cancer, it benefits our body as a whole.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” – Mahatma Gandhi