October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages. The facts are staggering:1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
Breast cancer is a multi-factorial disease. Several risk factors that we don't have control over include: the environment, genetics, hormone and estrogen levels, age, family history, hormone therapy and radiation exposure.
There are no food or dietary supplements that will act as magic bullets to prevent breast cancer. However, there are many strategies we can control to help reduce the risk of breast cancer including keeping a normal weight, engaging in regular physical activity and minimizing alcohol intake. Maintaining a healthy diet is an essential part of being proactive with your health. I want to focus on increasing protective factors: so here are 5 foods for breast cancer prevention:
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals are compounds in plants that may lower cancer risk by preventing damage to the DNA, boosting immune function and preventing cancer cell growth. The antioxidant power in produce is immense and can not be replaced by fruit or vegetable powders or supplements. All fruits and vegetables are beneficial but focus on these:
2. High Fiber Foods Some studies suggest that the increased intake of fiber may have a small protective effect against breast cancer; possibly by reducing blood levels of estrogen or by binding toxic carcinogens and eliminating them. Choose real fiber, not foods with added fiber such as inulin. Aim for around 30 grams per day.
You can find fiber in: whole grains (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, millet, amaranth, whole wheat tortilla/bread, farro, barley, bulgur, rye, popcorn, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, wheat germ), beans, lentils, fresh fruits and vegetables with their skin on and/or dried fruits.
3. Anti Inflammatory Foods Choosing anti-inflammatory foods may help prevent breast cancer as inflammation is known to negatively affect tumor environment. There are many foods that comprise an anti-inflammatory diet, these are several key choices:
Green tea: real tea bags for the most active compounds, not bottled green tea
Garlic: raw is more active
Ginger: raw or powdered
Turmeric (curry): raw or powdered; most effective when mixed with black pepper and extra virgin olive oil
4. Plant Based Protein Studies find that a plant based diet is associated with a reduced breast cancer risk. There is an especiallypositive association between red meat intake and breast cancer. One study found that each serving per day of red meat was associated with a 13% increase in breast cancer risk. (If you do choose to eat red meat, avoid carcinogenic byproducts such as heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) which are created during high temperature cooking.More HCA’s are formed when meat is cooked greater than 300 degrees, greater than 2 minutes or fried, oven grilled, broiled or barbequed.) Choose to consume your protein from plant based sources of protein such as beans, lentils, whole grains and nuts. In moderation choose whole, unprocessed soy that is fermented (tofu, miso, tempeh, edamame) and avoid concentrated soy such as soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, soy flour or soy fiber (found in powders, "fake" meats, bars and cereals). If you do choose animal protein, choose lean sources such as poultry, eggs and fish.
5. Healthy Fats Fats in our diet are necessary and helpful; some are healthier than others. Decrease saturated fats (found in animal products) and avoid trans fats (foods containing partially hydrogenated oil) as they may be associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. Unsaturated fats are protective.